July 20, 2015

Woo Yea Hwang, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education
Hyung-pyo Moon, Minister of Health and Welfare
Yun Byung-se, Minister of Foreign Affair
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Cc: Hyun Byung-chul, Chairperson, The National Human Rights Commission of Korea
Seokyoung Choi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea in Geneva
Oh Joon, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations

Re: Human Rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Dear Minister Hwang, Minister Moon, and Minister Byung-se,

We write to follow our letter of May 3, 2015 in which we expressed concern over the announcement that the government of the Republic of Korea had instituted new sex education guidelines that specifically exclude any mention of homosexuality.[1]

We are also concerned that these guidelines fall short in providing adolescents accurate and comprehensive information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including on making related decisions free of discrimination and violence as well as prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In our May letter, we expressed concern that the new policy discriminates against LGBT youth and violates their right to education, information, and health. We also believe that it violates South Korea’s international human rights commitments, and could be harmful to young people and negatively affect public health.

The guidelines are also contrary to South Korea’s commendable leadership role at the United Nations, where it has voted for both the 2011 and 2014 Human Rights Council resolutions to address violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On July 1, South Korea further affirmed the government’s international commitment to upholding the rights to education, information, and health for all by supporting a UN resolution on violence against women—the first-ever UN resolution to mention comprehensive sexuality education.  – This is commendable and so it is very disappointing to see a sharp contrast between these positions taken at the UN versus official policy and practice within South Korea.

Human Rights Watch noted that the decision not to include homosexuality in the new sex education guidelines was discriminatory, and that the curriculum overall falls short of international standards.[2] We urge the government of the Republic of Korea to reverse this policy decision by:

  • Immediately halting the roll-out of the new sex education guidelines;
  • Convening consultation sessions with civil society, health experts, and human rights experts to revise the guidelines and bring them in line with South Korea’s international obligations to protect the rights to information, education, and health for all persons without discrimination;
  • Issuing an unambiguous statement affirming the rights of LGBT children in South Korea’s schools, including the obligation of school officials to protect LGBT students from harm and provide relevant and accurate information to them.

The July 1, 2015 Human Rights Council resolution[3] calls on states to take measures to implement “social and economic policies that guarantee women full and equal access to quality education, including comprehensive sexuality education….” The resolution specifically references The UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, which defines comprehensive sexuality education as an “age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic and non-judgemental information. Sexuality education provides opportunities to explore one’s own values and attitudes and to build decision-making, communication and risk-reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality.”[4]

UNESCO’s guidelines make it clear that “the sensitive and sometimes controversial nature of sexuality education makes it important that supportive and inclusive laws and policies are in place, demonstrating that the provision of sexuality education is a matter of institutional policy rather than the personal choice of individuals.” They call for a clear set of school-wide policies concerning a range of issues including sexual orientation and gender identity. UNESCO emphasizes that “children and young people have a specific need for the information and skills provided through sexuality education that makes a difference to their life chances…” highlighting that the “threat to life and their well-being exists in a range of contexts, whether it is in the form of abusive relationships, health risks associated with early unintended pregnancy, exposure to STIs including HIV or stigma and discrimination because of their sexual orientation.”

In the Korean language version of UNESCO’s 2012 guidelines on responses to homophobic bullying in schools,[5] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon authored the foreword, noting that, “Even in societies where homosexuality or atypical gender identity are not criminalized, they often remain sensitive issues, in particular in relation to young people and education. This is the case in my home country of the Republic of Korea, where homosexuality is largely taboo.” The Secretary-General charged: “In the Republic of Korea and around the world, let us make schools safer for all young people, including the LGBT members of our human family.  They are born free and equal, with full dignity and rights, and they deserve our protection and respect.” In a speech on June 26, 2015, referencing his own upbringing in South Korea, he reiterated: “The abuses and indignity suffered by members of the LGBT community are an outrage – an affront to the values of the United Nations and to the very idea of universal human rights.”[6]

South Korea’s representation at the United Nations has, with the July 1 vote, further affirmed its policy stance on the human rights of LGBT people, including the rights to education, information, and health. The government should commit to revising its sex education policy in line with the international human rights standards that South Korea supports.  

We look forward to your response. Please reply to Kyle Knight, researcher in the LGBT rights program.

Sincerely,

Brad Adams
Asia director
Human Rights Watch

Graeme Reid
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program director
Human Rights Watch

 

[1] Human Rights Watch. “Letter to the Government of South Korea on the Need to Recognize Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Sex Education.” May 3, 2015. https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/05/03/letter-government-south-korea-need-recognize-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity

[2] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 24, Women and Health (Article 12), U.N. Doc. No. A/54/38/Rev.1 (1999), para. 23.

[3] UN Human Rights Council resolution: “Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: eliminating domestic violence.” July 1, 2015. A/HRC/29/L.16/Rev.1

[4] UNESCO. “International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education.” December 2009. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183281e.pdf

[5] 8unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002164/216493kor.pdf  

[6] United Nations Office of the Secretary-General. Secretary-General Remarks at the UN Free & Equal Lunch [as delivered]. San Francisco, June 26, 2015. http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8772