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close this bookSex Education Projects Use Peer Methods (UNAIDS - Best Practice Digest, 2000, 3 p.)
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Sex Education Projects Use Peer Methods

For further details please contact (1) Tan Leshan, Save the Children, +86(0)871 516 5002, (2) Audrey Swift, Australian Red Cross, +86(0)871 312 5624, or (3) Gao Yuan, Australian Chinese AIDS/STDs/Safer Sex Peer Education Programme, +86(0)10 6444 1406

Extracted from chinabrief, Volume 111 Number 1, Spring 2000

Save the Children (UK) is collaborating with the Yunnan Provincial Education Commission in China in a pilot reproductive health and sex education project in 15 middle schools. Dr Tan Leshan, Deputy Programme Director, Save the Children (UK), explained why: ‘Parents worry that if children learn about sex too early they will start to have sex at an early age but world-wide experience shows that this is not so; early sex education actually postpones the age at which people become sexually active.’

‘ If we don’t teach children, they will find out about sex anyway from other sources - films and magazine, or from their friends - but this information may be partial or incorrect, and that is dangerous,’ added Dr Tan.

Sex and reproductive health education in most Chinese schools is extremely limited at present. Human reproduction is not dealt with explicitly, or separately from that of animals. Emotional issues are not addressed, nor are topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive tract infections, or contraception. Until now, information about sex has been regarded as only necessary and appropriate for young couples engaged to be married.

But pregnancies among unmarried teenagers and abortions appear to be increasing fast in China. Statistical data is limited but one survey conducted in the early 1990s by All China Women’s Federation found that a quarter of induced abortions were performed on unmarried women. According to Dr Zhu Yaohua of the China Population Welfare Foundation, surveys have shown that in some southern Chinese cities up to 65% of young people now have sex before marriage.

There are no easily available sex education materials appropriate for schoolchildren in China. Last year (1999) the State Education Commission formally endorsed the principle of sex education for Chinese schoolchildren but outside Shanghai, which has developed its own sex education curriculum, schools as yet have little experience of how to deal with these new and sensitive subject areas.

This is the problem that Save the Children and the Yunnan Provincial Education Commission are working on. They will use a peer education methodology, developing within each of the schools a core group of student trainers who passed on to fellow students the knowledge they have acquired.

Issues covered will include the knowledge and understanding of sexual relations (both emotional and physical aspects), awareness of reproductive health risks (from simple infections to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV), and the understanding of how to prevent, or when to seek help for, reproductive health problems.

The project will initially take place in five middle schools in Yuxi Prefecture, and five schools in Xishuangbanna Prefecture.

The project team is drawing on the experience of an earlier HIV/AIDS awareness pilot project in which the two agencies have collaborated since 1996. That earlier project, initially based in middle schools in Kunming, Ruili and Xishuangbanna, used a peer education methodology. The Health Education Department of the provincial Education Commission has now taken over full responsibility for expanding the project to all of Yunnan’s prefectures, while Save the Children is working with the Education Commissions of Xinjiang and the Tibetan Autonomous Region to start up similar programmes in their areas.

Peer education methods have been promoted by several other international organisations working in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness in China. Since 1996, the Australian Red Cross (ARC) in partnership with the Yunnan Red Cross and with funding support from the Australian government, has developed a community-based peer education programme for young people. At first most of the peer educators were college students in Kunming, but the ATC has since targeted activities more to high - risk groups and expanded its activities throughout Yunnan. Training sessions have taken place in karaoke bars and compulsory detoxification centres.

ARC also provides technical assistance to the Xinjiang Red Cross to provide a peer education programme. In Bejing and Shanghai, since 1998 AIDS awareness has been promoted among students from 16 universities. The core trainers provided intensive training to 1800 fellow students who, according to Programme Director Gao Yuan, have in turn provided information to at least 35, 000 peers. Dr Gao is hoping that in the future this project may be extended to high schools. The programme receives technical support from the Royal Women’s Hospital attached to Melbourne University, Australia. Grant funding has come from three international corporate sponsors: Durex, Schering and Orgenon.