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Sex education should be part of ‘mandatory curriculum’ to tackle violence against women, claims NI children’s commissioner

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Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People

Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People

Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People

Sex education in Northern Ireland should be part of a “compulsive mandatory curriculum” with children currently being left to get their education from “social media”, according to the children’s commissioner.

Koulla Yiasouma also said educating boys and girls appropriately about healthy relationships is “one of the building blocks” to reducing violence against women and misogyny.

On Wednesday a number of MLAs on Stormont's Education Committee questioned the Education Minister McIlveen over the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum taught in schools.

While it is mandatory for each school in Northern Ireland to develop its own RSE policy, what is actually taught to pupils is determined by each school based on their own ethos.

Speaking to the BBC Nolan Show, Ms Yiasouma claimed the current system is doing a “disservice to our boys” and said comprehensive RSE is crucial “if we are to be serious about tackling violence against women and girls”.

She also said young people have told her the current system is “not consistent”, with “quite a lot of discretion left to schools”.

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“We do a disservice to our boys if we do not support them with education at the earliest stage possible,” she told the Nolan Show.

“This isn't about a bias towards anyone if we are to support our children to have healthy relationships then we have to have good and effective RSE.

“It is not men who are worried when they go out at night. It is not men who are concerned every time they hear footsteps behind them.

“It is not men who get murdered just because of their gender when they are out.

“I am not for one minute suggesting men and boys and trans people are not victims of violence. What we do know is we have an issue about violence against our women and girls and I will challenge anyone to tell me that is not an issue.”

While Ms Yiasouma did not clarify what specific age RSE should begin in school, she claimed “you start talking to children about sex in an age appropriate way from primary school”.

“We know from surveys that young people are getting a lot of their information from social media,” she added.

“In what other area of their lives would we be comfortable to leave it to social media to educate our children?

“What young people are saying is that they want to hear about it from school.”

During the Stormont committee meeting, Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said the education system was “failing to tackle harmful beliefs and behaviours”, with each school in Northern Ireland having to develop its own RSE policy.

The Education Minister replied that she did not agree with Ms Woods.

“I’m of the view that this is very much something that is taught within schools at various levels,” said Michelle McIlveen.

“Consent is part of the curriculum and is part of the post-primary curriculum.”

She also informed the Assembly that officials from the Department of Education were involved in a working group set up by the Department of Justice on education in the wake of the Gillen Review which recommended that sex and relationship education should be taught to schoolchildren from P1.

But it was added that the Department has concerns that more prescriptive relationships and sex education could bring schools in Northern Ireland into conflict with parents and governors.


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