We at the Humanist Society (Singapore) read with interest, and not without some concern, the report on January 26th in the Straits Times (ST) entitled: “Call to tweak sexuality education” The report mentioned that some Catholic School principals are meeting with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to review and perhaps change (the paper used the word “tweak”) the ministry’s Breaking Down Barriers (BDB) Program.
The program, first introduced introduced in 2007, was developed collaboratively by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and the MOE. It is aimed primarily at older students (secondary 3, junior colleges and centralized institutes) to provide them with “accurate information on STIs [sexually transmitted infections], HIV and contraception from a health perspective.” [A summary of the curriculum can be found here]. Students are taught to be assertive, not to succumb to peer pressure and to say “No” to sex. In other words, the program teaches abstinence as the most important key to responsible sexuality. In addition, the program also teaches the correct use of condoms. This “abstinence plus” emphasis is important, since the use of condoms serves as a secondary protective measure – should abstinence fail.
According to the ST report, the change being sought by the principals seems to revolve primarily around the segment which teaches the correct use of condoms. It is not reported what this “tweaking” will involve and whether the MOE has made any decisions to change the BDB program due to this meeting.
That condom is an effective protection against STI’s and HIV is a scientific fact. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), condoms have been shown to be at least 80% successful in preventing HIV infections among cohabitating couples. In Thailand, the “No Condom – No Sex” program introduced in 1989 by the government to reduce STI’s and HIV then rampant in the sex industry there. The result, was a 95% reduction in STI’s and a subsequent reduction in HIV infections. It was estimated that as many five million new HIV infections from 1991 to 2003 were prevented by this program. [source].
Studies in the US have shown that programs that teach abstinence and the correct use of condoms (i.e. “abstinence-plus” programs) are more effective in preventing teenage pregnancies and STI’s than “abstinence only” programs [http://ari.ucsf.edu/science/reports/abstinence.pdf].
Within the Singapore context, the incidence of STI’s among teenagers was increasing at an alarming rate from 2002 to 2007 as this ST report on April 28, 2008 witnessed [http://www.asiaone.com/Health/News/Story/A1Story20080407-58557.html]. Since DBD program was introduced in 2007, the STI rate among teenagers has dropped – as shown by this graph taken from the Department of STI Control (DSC) website:
[Source: DSC Clinic]
While it is true that correlation is not proof of causation, the graph above certainly does lend some support to the effectiveness of the BDB program.
We are very concerned about any possibility of changing the MOE’s BDB into an “abstinence only” program. A removal of information of the proper use of condoms in the overall program would immediately put more of our children at risk and it is certainly against the interest of us as a nation and a society. However even if “tweaking” is done only for Catholic schools, it must be kept in mind that not all students that go to Catholic schools are Catholics. Surely parents who are not Catholics are not to be denied their children being educated properly against STI’s even if they do go to Catholic schools.