Sex education week for Dutch under-12s

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A week of sex education for children aged 4 to 12 has started in the Netherlands. ‘Spring Butterflies Week’ includes lessons, activities and theatre shows all about sexuality and relationships for children at participating schools. The aim is to help children prepare for later life by giving them truthful, accurate yet age-appropriate information at a key point in their development.

The sixth annual Lente Kriebels (literally: spring itches) week includes a range of activities and materials tailored to the different ages of its target audience of primary school children. The plan is for children at the participating schools to have at least one lesson a day on the themes of the campaign.

In the case of the youngest children, the lessons won’t be about sex as such, but things like the differences between boys and girls and about falling in love, the programme’s website explains. They might start off with a lesson about cuddling. For the older children, subjects include self-image, physical changes during puberty, male and female roles and safe sex.

Open approach
The people behind this week of sex education believe children in the 21st century are confronted with - often inaccurate or misleading images of - sex and sexuality more than ever before and that this needs counterbalancing with accurate information.

“Children hear so much over the internet, on TV or from friends. They often use terms about which they actually have no knowledge at all. And I think, therefore, it’s good that they should know what they’re actually talking about,” one teacher comments.

The open approach to the topic has other benefits, another teacher adds. “Lessons on this subject help to create a better atmosphere in the class and less shyness – also among the teachers.”

'Vulnerable' neighbourhoods
A special focus for this year’s programme is parental involvement. Part of this is a special effort to involve schools in what the organisers describe as ‘vulnerable’ neighbourhoods - poorer areas with big immigrant populations. Research shows that boys and girls in families where the parental approach to the two sexes is very different are more likely to go on to display sexually inappropriate behaviour, the organisation says. Many of these families live in ‘vulnerable’ districts.

The organisers say the parental factor is also important because research shows children from warm, loving families are generally more confident in their sexuality. They start having sexual relations at a later age and are better able to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. They are also less likely to be coerced into sexual activity.

Organised by sexual and reproductive health and rights organisation RutgersWPF in cooperation with municipal health departments across the country, the Spring Butterflies week runs from 21 to 24 March

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