Publication Date
March 1, 2016

“There are more young people in the world than ever before. Today, worldwide, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24. This demographic reality requires governments, decision makers, educators, health providers and parents to enable young people to realize their rights, including ensuring that all young people receive high quality comprehensive sexuality education.” 

This report by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is intended to inform advocates and decision makers about how to support the sexual reproductive rights of young people around the world. It argues that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is critical for young people to realise their rights, and recommends that high quality CSE should be delivered to all young people, both inside and outside schools. In particular, it emphasises the importance of paying attention to who delivers sexuality education, how they are trained, and how CSE is delivered in relation to pedagogy and participatory, learner-centred approaches.

As stated in the report, “Even though some countries have scaled up CSE programmes in schools, implementation is often nowhere near good enough. Delivery is often outdated and non-participatory, teaching staff are not adequately trained and content focuses exclusively on health outcomes, rather than the recognition of rights. Sometimes the information is scientifically inaccurate. The most vulnerable young people, who often find themselves outside the school system, are excluded.  This report makes the case for a complementary approach to implementing CSE inside and outside  schools. It advocates for a robust approach to scaling up quality CSE programmes within schools and argues that we must also reach young people outside schools. It highlights the huge potential of the non-formal sector to deliver CSE that is participatory and innovative and reaches the most marginalized young people.”

Arguments and recommendations outlined in the report are based on a desk review which the IPPF carried out focusing on the following areas:) the effects of CSE on the lives of young people in formal settings, such as schools; 2) ƒthe effects of CSE on the lives of young people in non-formal settings; and 3) the effects of promoting a rights-based sex-positive approach to CSE.

In a discussion on the benefits and effects of CSE to both governments and youth themselves, the report make the point that “sexuality education programmes are worth investment because they empower, build self-esteem, share information about rights, and lead to better health and well-being for young people. CSE programmes delivered in schools, paired with accessible youth-friendly health services, have been shown to be not only cost-effective, but also cost saving for governments.”

The report looks at CSE in formal setting, such as schools, highlighting some of the pitfalls and what works in delivering CSE in schools. Characteristics of successful CSE programmes include: trained qualified educators, integrating quality CSE into the national curriculum, participatory non-judgemental and safe learning environments. linking education to health facilities, focusing on the positive aspects of sexuality or taking on a sex-positive approach to CSE (defined by IPPF as an approach that strives to achieve ideal experiences, rather than solely working to prevent negative experiences); and building community and parental support.

The document includes a section on peer education, which looks at the value of peer educators as a source of sensitisation and as referral points to experts and services. However, it acknowledges the limited impact of peer education programmes working in isolation and makes the point that peer education should be integrated within holistic interventions to meet young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

CSE in non-formal settings is considered crucial to reaching vulnerable and marginalised youth populations who are not in school. The report explains that “[D]elivering CSE in and outside school should not be seen as an either/or. We must invest in the delivery of CSE in both formal and non-formal settings to ensure that we reach all young people – and in the most inclusive and participatory way possible.”  The most effective approaches to working in an informal environment are outlined with best practice examples, which again highlight the importance of participatory and learning-centred methodologies, and skilled non-judgemental facilitators. 

Social media is also discussed as an important new way to reach young people. Although research on the effectiveness and effects of delivering CSE through these new platforms is limited and emerging, the report highlights some examples of how some organisations have used media such as television, mobile technologies, and online initiatives to engage young people in CSE.

The report concludes with the following recommendations aimed at governments, civil society organisations, educators, health providers, and researchers:

1. Delivering high quality CSE that meets the needs of all young people in and out of schools

  • Governments, health providers, educators, civil society organizations and United Nations agencies  should design and implement high quality sustainable CSE programmes that encompass information and education about sexual and reproductive health, positive aspects of sexuality, gender, rights and empowerment principles, and that encourage criticalthinking in young people.
  • Governments must ensure that high quality CSE that considers the full spectrum of young people’s sexual and reproductive lives, is delivered within schools and the national curriculum as well as  across non-formal settings. These programmes should be scaled up to reach all young people within schools, as well as focusing explicitlyon reaching young people who are particularly vulnerable and who are excluded from the schooling system.
  • Educators and civil society groups  should provide information and education to vulnerable and marginalized groups (young people who drop out of school, street children, young people living with HIV, disabled young people, younger adolescents aged 10–14, men who have sex with men, among others). This education should be delivered through flexible and creative approaches which are carefully planned and monitored, and targeted to reach these populations.
  • Civil society organizations and educators must ensure that CSE is delivered within safe and non-judgemental environments, and involves participatory teaching methods that meet young people’s learning needs. This includes curriculum-based activities as well as more responsive non-curriculum delivery approaches.
  • Educators  designing and implementing CSE programmes must listen to the voices of young people to ensure that information and education is responsive to their specific needs. It is crucial to continuously strengthen partnerships with youth-led groups, supporting the direct participation and leadership of young people, particularly from marginalized groups, in CSE programme development, research and advocacy.

2. Training and support for educators and health providers

  • Governments, civil society organizations and health providers  must invest in supporting teachers, educational institutions and individuals who deliver CSE in both schools and non-formal settings to be trained sufficiently and confident in delivering sexuality education in a way that is framed positively and is non-judgemental. This includes providing teachers with high quality ongoing training, supervision and resources to ensure they have the skills, expertise and support to deliver sexuality education that meets international standards.
  • Governments, health providers and educational institutions must ensure that there are strong links between educational facilities and health providers, as well as between ministries of education and health within governments, in order that young people can access the information and education as well as the sexual and reproductive health services that they need.

3. Changing norms and behaviours to support a culture of choice

  • Educators and civil society should work with communities and parents to build support for CSE as well as a culture that supports choice and respect for young people and their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Civil society organizations and educators should build peer education programmes into broader programming for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, acknowledging the unique value that peer educators offer as a source of sensitization and as referral points to experts and services.
Everyone's Right to Know: Delivering Comprehensive Sexuality Education For All Y

IPPF website on October 27 2016.