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UN Body Urges South Korea to Improve Sexuality Education

Steps Needed to Protect Sexual and Gender Minority Children

A rainbow flag is carried during a parade as a part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, July 14, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Lee Jin-man © 2018 AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is urging South Korea to revamp its sexuality education curriculum to cover age-appropriate topics like pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These steps are crucial if South Korea is to address the needs of all youth, curb harmful gender stereotypes, and halt rising HIV rates in the country.

Children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) need comprehensive sex education for the same reasons as other kids – to understand their bodies, form healthy relationships, and keep themselves safe.

But LGBT children in South Korea rarely receive the education necessary to meet those goals. In fact, the Ministry of Education has excluded any mention of LGBT issues from the sexuality education curriculum and reinforced stereotypical gender roles, depriving children of basic knowledge about gender and sexuality.

Even teachers who want to be inclusive can have difficulty bringing these issues into the classroom. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, South Korean sexuality educators have said they fear discipline or parental backlash if they try to raise LGBT issues with students.

The predictable result is that many LGBT children do not learn the basics of sexual health and wellness, and too often lack the information to let them know they’re not alone.

Revamping the sexuality education curriculum should be part of a larger package of reforms to protect LGBT kids in South Korea. After more than a decade of failed attempts, the National Assembly still has not enacted legislation that would prohibit discrimination, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UN children’s rights committee also encouraged the government to address bullying and cyberbullying, of which LGBT and other minority children are often targets.

South Korea has models it can look to for these reforms, including UNESCO’s guidelines on sexuality education. If the government wants to ensure the rights, health, and well-being of children, it can start by giving all kids – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – the basic information they need to thrive.

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