The Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH), a part of Georgetown University Medical Center, has co-authored a report apparently lamenting policies restricting abortion and recommending that adolescents begin receiving sex education at as young as 10 years of age. While the report addresses situations that are often mired in injustice and suffering, it proposes to alleviate these occurrences through means that are out of sync with Catholic Church teachings and guidelines.
The IRH report seems to bemoan restrictions that require very young adolescents to gain parental approval and acknowledgment for abortion and that limit access to contraceptives. It reads:
For those older VYAs [very young adolescents] who become sexually active, access to contraceptives and safe abortion remains largely unavailable due to regulations requiring parental approval or informal health care policies (WHO, 2011). In many settings, policies discouraging early marriage are undermined by loopholes and inconsistencies in minimum age requirements (in some countries, such as India, girls are permitted to marry earlier than boys) and civil registration systems. Such policies and practices, combined with lack of political will and resources, represent an ongoing challenge in addressing this unique group of adolescents.
Additionally, the report argues that as children transition through their sexual development and are vulnerable to sexual experiences between ages 10 and 14, sex education should begin at that age. A major point of contention is whether prepubescent children are intellectually or psychologically developed enough to integrate the kind of explicit information and images that sex education entails. In fact, Dr. Louise Eikoff, in a study which appeared in Child and Family 13.1, concluded that premature sexual instruction actually interferes with the maturation process.
The Church is not without an understanding of the need for children to be informed and guided on sexual matters. The Second Vatican Council’s “Declarationon Christian Education” calls for children to be given “a positive and prudent sexual education,” reiterating what had been said previously by several popes. However, the Church insists that the right to educate about such matters be reserved for the family, and that this education take place in a way that is age appropriate, that does not prematurely provide the child with images that he or she is not yet able to control, and that ensures the child is able to think about sexual matters in a moral context. The Pontifical Council for the Family’s “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family” provides extensive recommendations on how sexual education should be done in a prudent and healthy way.
Other respected psychologists, such as Dr. Rhoda Lorand, Dr. John Meeks, Dr. Myre Sim, Dr. Charles Sarnoff, Dr. Viktor Frankl, and Dr. Val Davajan, have argued against sex education in schools, citing that sex education in a group setting can be dehumanizing and children are not ready to emotionally receive that information.
The IRH report however proposes that children be reached with this information by various means, including health services, school curricula, youth camps, and social media initiatives, which could reach them at any age, regardless of their parents’ wishes. It also discredits the family’s qualification to judge on such matters, fretting that “Parental desire to protect their children is often exercised through behavioral regulation and monitoring rather than through positive support to their growing child.” Such suggestions severely undercut the efforts of families to be an authority over the education of their own children, suggesting instead that outsiders be allowed to dictate the time and place in which their children receive information that is not retractable.
The IRH report states specifically in its acknowledgments that the views it contains do not necessarily reflect the views of Georgetown University. Nonetheless, as a fruit of scholarship tied to Georgetown University Medical Center, the report has the potential to exert influence on both American and world policy.
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