Under pressure from the Romanian Orthodox Church, parliament amended last week a recently passed law, which obliged schools to offer sexual education to children at least once every six months. According to the modifications, students in Romania can now receive sex education at school only with the written consent of their parents or guardian. Romanian student associations protested against the modifications, stressing that the rate of minor mothers in Romania is the highest in the EU, but the Romanian Parliament decided to listen to the church, not the students.
According to the original law, promulgated by president Klaus Iohannis on April 3, schools need to hold life and health education programs, including sex education classes, at least once per semester. The aim of the initiative was, among others, to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies among teenagers.
While such an initiative should be welcomed in 2020, especially in a country with one of the highest rates of teenage motherhood in the EU, not everyone was happy about mandatory sexual orientation: The Romanian Orthodox Church heavily criticized the decision, stressing that it is an attack on children’s innocence.
“The compulsory enrolling of pupils in sex education programs is an attack on children’s innocence, preventing their natural development and marking them for life,” Romanian Insider quoted a press release of the Orthodox Church. They also stated that “based on studies undertaken in various countries,” children start their sex life earlier due to such classes, “with all the consequences, and without any improvement on a social level.”
Under the pressure of the powerful church – to which approximately 80 percent of the Romanian population belongs – MPs of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL) proposed the abovementioned amendments, and the mandatory sex-ed classes are now tied to the written consent of students’ parents or guardian. The amendments were adopted by a large majority of the representatives, with 269 in favor, three against, and 35 abstentions. The parliament also accepted to modify the name of the program: It is no longer called “sexual orientation” but “health education.” The change was supported by some of the same MPs that voted for the original legislation only weeks ago.
The original law was proposed by an MP of the Save Romania Union. The MP pointed out at the discussion of the amendments that the modifications will only increase the bureaucracy surrounding a class that’s already taught in schools for only a very low number of hours. The politician called the attitudes of the representatives toward sexual education as the “festival of hypocrites.”
The National Alliance of Student Organizations in Romania (ANOSR), the National Council of School Students (CNE) and the Romanian Youth Council (CTR) has protested against the amendments. According to them, the modifications prevent students from accessing the necessary information for their personal development. The student organizations also pointed out that no other school classes require parental consent and that sexual orientation should not be tied to such subjective consent. An effective educational system should be able to determine which classes should be included in the curriculum for student development, they argued.
ANOSR also stressed that sexual orientation is mandatory in schools in most EU countries, but it is still taboo in the Romanian educational system and a central issue in several ideological debates.
“In our opinion, the health of the students should be the most important, and the decision-makers should prioritize education policies that match reality. The Romanian reality is that we have the highest number of minor mothers in the EU,” they wrote in a press release.
ANOSR quotes the Tempo survey from the Romanian National Institute of Statistics, pointing out that in 2018, 727 girls under the age of 15 and 18,753 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 became mothers in Romania. Out of the mothers who are younger than 15, 19 have had their second child, while one has even had a third.
The organization also mentioned that 7.5 percent of cervical cancer cases diagnosed annually in Europe are in Romania; the rate of this disease is three times higher than the EU average. In addition, Romania ranks first in the Union for the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer.
ANOSR also states that based on the data of the Save the Children Association, 6 out of 10 minor mothers did not receive any sexual education nor had access to such information. Another 12 percent of the mothers said that they were informed by neighbors, friends, relatives or the internet. ANOSR also stressed that most Romanian families do not talk about sexuality at all.
Title image: Sexual orientation is mandatory in schools in most EU countries, but it is still taboo in the Romanian educational system