(C-Fam) Parental authority made a comeback in three UN resolutions about children this week, something thought impossible just a year ago.
There were audible gasps from the floor of the UN conference room on Monday morning as the vote tally of the UN third committee appeared on the overhead screen. The vote was close. Parental guidance in sex education unexpectedly won the day, with the United States voting in favor.
African nations and the small island state of Saint Lucia orchestrated a successful volley of hostile amendments to three resolutions calling for sex education for young children. The Africans were adamant that any resolution committing states or the UN system to providing sex education should include a caveat on “appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians.”
Saint Lucia was the first to introduce the amendment. It proposed parental guidance language in paragraphs about sex education last Friday in a resolution about girls and one about adolescents and youth, defined by the UN as beginning at 10 years of age.
“Parents and the family play an important role in guiding children,” the delegate said in the General Assembly. She said the original language in the resolution was “not adequate” because it relegated the role of parents to that of equal partners with young people, health providers and educators. She pointed to the UN treaty on the rights of the child as recognizing the rights of parents to direct the education of their children.
While the amendment failed in the resolution on youth, the very same amendment to identical paragraphs about sex education was adopted in three other resolutions on the girl child, the rights of the child, and girls with disabilities, introduced by the African Group in the latter two. Gasps gave way to applause with each amendment adopted.
Visibly frustrated European and Latin American delegates called for a vote on these amendments, a request only made in UN negotiations when the stakes are high. More often than not these delegations are able to use the rules of procedure to their advantage. This time they were outmaneuvered by the Africans in three resolutions.
The European Union said they did not see the paragraph on sex education as consensual. They were echoed by delegates from Latin America who called it “highly problematic.” Canada’s representative said, “we cannot accept this.” An Australian delegate said they were “extremely disappointed.” Many justified their opposition as technicalities and not as a substantive matter.
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A delegate from Norway was more transparent, and said they could not accept the premise of the amendment because “children should decide freely and autonomously” on matters involving sexual and reproductive health.
An Egyptian delegate speaking on behalf of all African countries except South Africa responded with equal transparency, “Our African culture respects parental rights,“ and, “Egypt rejects attempts of certain countries to impose their education system on others.”
The United States and the Holy See emphasized the role of parents in sex education and rejected abortion as a component of sexual and reproductive health.
UN agencies continue to promote “comprehensive sexuality education” through their offices around the world, though the General Assembly rejected it last year. The lack of consensus on the issue has so far foiled attempts to legitimize this type of sexual education in UN programming.