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Peers call for mandatory sex education to tackle rise in HIV cases

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Peers are calling for the introduction of mandatory sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools, due to evidence of rising cases of HIV in young people.

During the debate in the House of Lords on 5 September, peers argued that the Department of Education needed to update its policy on SRE.

It follows calls earlier this year from Maria Miller, Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, who urged the previous Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to make SRE compulsory in all schools.

Rise of HIV in young people 'particularly sharp'

Conservative peer Lord Black of Brentwood, who led the House of Lords debate, said:

"Improving education about HIV and sexually transmitted illnesses more generally would also be of real benefit, especially as the increase in HIV incidence among young people is particularly sharp, up 70% in the last three years. It is time to look again at what is being taught about this issue, particularly as Department for Education guidance is now 16 years old.

"It is really important for young people to understand about HIV and to learn how to avoid it through condom use, but also to be taught the importance of being supportive of those living with HIV and not to fear or stigmatise them."

Push for change in policy

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a Labour peer, claimed that the statistics on SRE are "frightening."

"We know that only 40% of secondary schools in the state maintained sector have proper sex and relationship education on the curriculum and that primary schools, academies and free schools do not need to teach SRE. I do not think that that is right.

"I hope the noble Lord’s department is in earnest discussions with the Department for Education about a proper change in policy in this area."

He continued: "There is a need for new guidance. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in those 16 years—not least the introduction of same-sex marriage, the mass use of mobile phones, the internet, and all the issues in social media that that brings in relation to sex and relationships."

Discussion about HIV drugs

During the debate, the use of 'PrEp' pills, a drug that would prevent men who have sex with men from contracting HIV, was also discussed.

The pills contain pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an anti-retroviral drug which stops the HIV virus being transmitted between partners where one is HIV-positive.

Last month, the High Court told the NHS to fund the drug, which cost £400 a month when privately prescribed.

Lord Scriven, during the debate, claimed that the NHS's reluctance to prescribe the drug was “aggressive and nasty”.

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, commented previously that this treatment would not solve the underlying problem.

"Of course, it is important that we protect people and seek cures from disease," she said.

"However the real challenge here is the underlying behaviour and lifestyle which is risky and damaging to good health and proper relationships."

Limiting parental freedom

She has also spoken of the potential dangers of introducing mandatory sex education, emphasising that ultimately parents should take responsibility for educating their children on these issues.

"For many years, sex and relationship education has not provided a godly stance on sexuality or sexual relationships. Instead, it reflects our society's increasingly liberal sexual norms.

"Making SRE mandatory would limit parents' freedom to withdraw their children from these lessons if so desired and usurp their responsibility in deciding what they should and should not be taught at what age."

Related Links:
Inclusive sex education needed to tackle rising HIV infections among youngs people, peers say (PinkNews)
'Sexting' investigation leads to calls for compulsory sex education
HS told to fund preventive HIV treatment