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China Focuses on Lack of Sex Education - 2003-07-11


In China, government leaders are using U.N. World Population Day to focus on the lack of sex education in the country.

Evidence of changing times in China: on Friday, several of the country's state-controlled newspapers recognized U.N. World Population Day with articles calling for more sex education for Chinese teens.

As the world's largest society develops socially and economically, the need for greater sex awareness among teens is dawning on the leadership. Chinese youngsters now enter puberty around 12 or 13, but most don't get married until their mid-twenties, leaving a widening gap for premarital sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Liu Liqing, the China representative for Marie Stopes International, a non-profit organization working in urban and rural China to promote sexual awareness says that Chinese teens are caught between sexually liberal messages that are flooding in from the West, and antiquated school curriculums at home.

"Our education hasn't been kept up with their level of development because, you know, a lot of people still believe that sex education is a very sensitive issue…," she said. "And maybe we can only talk about physical development and maybe we can talk a little bit about, for example, what should be done before you get married. But then a lot of young people are very tired of these kinds of messages. They don't think it's very helpful."

The lack of practical information about sex is beginning to have a serious effect on China's youth. Liu says that 30 to 50 percent of abortions in China are performed on unmarried young women.

She also points to a recent survey that showed only 10 percent of the rural population and 60 percent of the urban population had a basic understanding of how HIV and AIDS are transmitted among people. Ms. Liu says this lack of knowledge may well be contributing to the dramatic infection rates among the young.

"Among those who have been infected, I think 60 percent are between the ages of 15 to 29," she explained.

As China opens up to the rest of the world, tough topics such as premarital sex and the spread of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases are not issues that the country will be able to avoid.

Several U.N.-backed programs are designing Web sites that will provide sex information for young people, while China's Ministry of Education has pledged to provide several hours of sex education classes per term for all of the country's middle and high school students.

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