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Despite several legislative attempts, and support at many level of society, the subject remains off-limits to the vast majority of Moldovan students. From Ziarul de Garda.by Maria Shvetz 1 March 2017
Background: The first attempt to introduce sex education in Moldovan schools goes back to September 2005. At the time, the Ministry of Education added to the school curriculum a compulsory subject called "Life Skills," which contained a number of topics on sex education. That led to a wave of protests and inspired heated discussions. Soon, at the request of representatives of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, the course was moved to a list of optional subjects, while textbooks were recalled from schools. A law on reproductive health was adopted in 2012, making sex education compulsory in schools. That has not become the reality.
In Moldova, one in 10 of those who become pregnant is a teenager. Despite such numbers, sex education in schools is a controversial subject that divides Moldovan society into two camps: supporters and opponents. Politicians skillfully exploited this division during the 2016 presidential campaign, adding to the existent polarization. Although the 2012 law on reproductive health makes classes on the subject compulsory in schools, the data suggest serious difficulties in its implementation.
Between September and December 2016, the youth network Y-PEER Moldova launched a sex education program in two schools, supported by the United Nations Population Fund, which works to ensure universal access to reproductive health. The initiative to pilot such a course was born after Y-PEER consulted 1,100 young people, out of which 1,011 said they needed sex education in schools. As a result, 62 eighth- and ninth-graders from the "Spiru Haret" high school in the capital Chisinau, and from the secondary school in the village of Vinatori, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Chisinau, took the Y-PEER course.
Children Give Birth to Children
According to the National Statistics Bureau, in 2015, more than 700 children in Moldova were born to teenage mothers and 47 of those mothers were not even 16 years old. Here are some of their stories (with their real names changed).
Violetta was 15 years old when she gave birth to a boy. Her mother had gone abroad, leaving her with Violetta’s grandparents. The girl concealed her pregnancy and attended school until the last day [before giving birth]. She passed a physical education exam and got the highest mark, then came home and delivered the baby in a toilet without any medical help. Although she was underage, Violetta decided to keep the child, with her grandmother supporting that choice. Over time, the girl managed to return to normal life. She got married and moved to another village. However, Violetta's happy end is a rarity.
Laura got pregnant when she was 16 years old. Her father threatened to kick her out of the house but after her teachers invited him to school and talked it over, he eventually accepted and forgave his “fallen” daughter. However, the girl suffered a miscarriage. Her classmates believe it happened because the father of the child had beaten her. Laura went back to school and graduated, but says she cannot just easily forget the past.
“There were five cases of teenage pregnancies in our school in the last five or six years alone,” says Larisa Gheorghica, the principal of the school in Vanatori. “Parents who didn’t leave the village [to go work abroad] do not care about the education of their children – especially sex education.”
In both schools the decision to participate in pilot programs on sex education was taken in consultation with teachers, students, and parents. “We voted on this issue, and at the end of the day, all the parents agreed to introduce this course,” said Marina Grecu, an eighth-grade tutor and psychologist at the “Spiru Haret” high school. “After the course ended, they told us that they were satisfied because their children were more open to having conversations with them.”
Course participants had to fill out questionnaires at the start and at the end of the program. "In the preliminary test they tried to touch upon philosophical topics that were hard to formulate since they did not have great knowledge of the subject. In the test afterward, they answered honestly and without complicated language,” Anna Susarenco, chairwoman of Y-PEER Moldova, said.
"In the beginning, to be honest, I didn’t know answers to half the questions,” said Marcela Carazie, an eighth-grade student from the school in Vinatori. “In the last test, however, I answered almost every question. My parents were very happy. They could not explain to me some things in the way that our instructors could."
"Sex education was useful because we didn’t know a lot and, when we learned it, we could not believe that things could be like that,” said Iurie Triboi, another eighth grader. “I learned how to protect myself and whom to contact in different situations.”
Through the Eyes of Politicians
As we previously said, the introduction of sex education has been a polarizing issue. Church representatives are often involved in scandals surrounding the issue. The latest such case happened during the 2016 presidential campaign, when the Bishop Marchel of Balti and Falesti, an ardent supporter of the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon, urged people to vote against his contender, pro-European Maia Sandu. Among other things, Marchel accused her of allowing the book "Sexual Life" in school libraries and promoting sex education when she was minister of education in 2013.
However, Susarenco from Y-PEER Moldova says that some priests actually support teaching this subject in schools. "We talked with priests from a number of towns and villages in hope of finding areas of common interest, because health can be seen as a [positive] value both for the church and for us, young people. And we were glad that none of them spoke out, completely against it,” Susarenco said.
During the election campaign, Dodon, who ended up winning the presidency, opposed sex education. "I am totally against introducing sex education and other values alien to us in school curricula,” he said in October. “We, the Moldovans, do not need these things. So, leave them at home in Europe, in other countries – destroy families there.”
On the other hand, Nicolae Osmochescu, a former Constitutional Court judge, says that the president has no authority to make decisions on this issue. Any educational reform should be carried out through legislative changes, and such laws are developed in parliament. "The president may initiate, promote this or that idea, but the right to adopt a law belongs only to parliament,” he said.
We asked members of parliament to share their views on sex education.
Ironically, Marina Radvan, a member of the Socialist Party and of the parliamentary committee on education, was not as unequivocal in her statements as Dodon, the former head of her party. She viewed it as important to first consult civil society organizations and other interested parties, such as teachers and parents, on this topic. "Only after that can we draw any conclusions,” Radvan said.
Lilian Carp, the deputy chairman of the Liberal Party and another member of the parliamentary commission on education, supports sex education in schools. "The content of the course must be tailored to the age [of the students], but at the same time it should also prepare a child for each stage of life," she said.
"I agree with the introduction of this subject in pre-university institutions, as it will, above all, prevent premature sexual relations and help young people understand what it means to plan a family through sharing knowledge of the benefits and risks of motherhood,” said Valentina Buliga, a member of parliament representing the Democratic Party. “It is no secret that our society regards it as a controversial matter, but ignorance is even more dangerous,” she added.
Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei, an expert on education policy and deputy chairman of the Action and Solidarity party, supports the initiative. "Many years ago there was a project to introduce the ‘Life Skills’ subject, which included elements of sex education, in schools. But because this subject was ignored by a number of organizations that did not understand what sex education really meant, it was taken out of the list of compulsory subjects. Now, students in more than 400 educational institutions have requested to study the subject of ‘Raising health culture,’ which includes topics on sexuality.”
“I'm glad that there are students and parents who understand that it is important," she added.
"I believe that we should teach ‘Life Skills’ in Moldovan educational institutions,” said the deputy chairman of the Communist Party, Elena Bodnarenco. “This subject should include both sex education and self-care, helping our children to grow up. This is necessary especially now, when 100,000 children in Moldova are raised without both parents, who are working abroad.”
A Half-Kept Promise, For Now
As Mariana Goras, deputy head of the department of pre-university education at the Ministry of Education, told us, the number of students who took the pilot course on sex education is too small to prompt the introduction of this course in other schools.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Education believes that each institution should determine its own priorities, which can also be implemented through extra-curricular activities.
"If the administration of an educational institution, based on survey results, introduces such a subject outside regular teaching hours, we will support this idea. But when dealing with what many regard as sensitive topics, it is important to secure the parents’ consent to hold such lessons,” Goras said.
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