China

Chinese Parents Support More Sex Education in Schools


High school students at play in Chongqing, China

Photograph by TPG/Getty Images

High school students at play in Chongqing, China

China’s infamous one-child policy now has many exception—for instance, spouses who are both single children can now have two children, if they wish—but the government continues to strictly monitor and control fertility. Given the legal imperative to limit unplanned pregnancies, you might expect that Chinese schools would provide comprehensive sex education from an early age. But in response to a recent poll conducted by the Beijing News and a Beijing-based non-governmental organization, the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center, 43.5 percent of parents said there was no sex education in the schools their children attend.

More than 90 percent of parents, however, said they favor incorporating sex education into school curricula, including information on birth control and how to ward off unwanted sexual advances. The poll was conducted online and through written questionaires, and the results were released on Monday. About 1,200 parents and children from ages 6 to 14 participated.

In the last month, Chinese newspapers have carried several troubling reports about children being allegedly abducted and molested, sometimes by school officials. After four female students under the age of 14 went missing from a school in Hainan Province on May 8, police found they had been kept in a local hotel for one night and video footage showed their former principal entering and exiting their rooms. He has since been charged with rape. The girls were groggy when police found them, indicating they may have been drugged. Separately, three teachers in Shenzhen city, Henan province, and in Hunan province are being investigated for allegedly molesting students. The string of cases has triggered moral outrage in China. Last Wednesday the Supreme People’s Court pledged to strictly prosecute offenders. Rape is a capital offense in China.

According to the Beijing News poll, 68 percent of parents said they had told their children about the birds and the bees. However, only 38 percent of parents said they had warned their children how to cope with inappropriate sexual advances. The recent news underscores the importance of the latter topic.

Across China, the negative impacts of inadequate education about sex and contraception are clear. Last year, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission (which is now being folded into China’s Health Ministry), reported that 13 million unplanned pregnancies are terminated annually through abortions. According to a 2012 paper (PDF) in the Journal of Adolescent Health, rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are rising in China. Migrant workers, who often live apart from their families and lack access to health and social services, are especially vulnerable: A 2006 survey of 6,299 young migrant workers in Shanghai found that only 32 percent reported using a condom during their first sexual encounter, and only 22 percent used contraception consistently.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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