Poland’s President Should Veto Bill Targeting Sex Education

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People hold a protest rally in front of Poland’s Education Ministry in Warsaw, Poland, October 4, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Rights activists, students, and educators in Poland wait anxiously this week as the country’s president Andrzej Duda decides whether to sign a dangerous bill that would increase government control over what students can and can’t learn, threatening access to already-limited comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

If passed, the bill, dubbed “Lex Czarnek” after education minister Przemysław Czarnek, would give government “educational welfare officers” the authority to decide what extracurricular or educational activities can occur in schools, and establish a complex bureaucracy around approving or refusing such activities. These officers would also be included in decision-making about removing head teachers, raising concerns that dismissals will be politicized.

The bill’s supporters, including members of the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and allied groups, claim it protects children and parental rights. But government leaders in Poland increasingly use such arguments as a smokescreen for assaults on reproductive rights and the rights of women and girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. This includes suppression of CSE, which appears to be the bill’s real target.

Groups providing education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and positive relationships – all part of essential CSE – have sounded the alarm. They are often the only providers of CSE in Poland, where the school curriculum favors misinformation about reproductive health and sexuality and perpetuates dangerous myths and discriminatory stereotypes rather than providing evidence-based sex education in line with international and regional standards.

PiS leaders have repeatedly accused school districts providing CSE of threatening so-called traditional families and “morally corrupting” children. An earlier bill introduced by right-wing PiS allies, currently with government committees, would essentially criminalize anyone providing sex education or information with potential prison sentences of up to three years. Under the PiS government, teachers and school administrators who support sexuality education or reproductive rights have been harassed, dragged through administrative proceedings, and had their jobs threatened.

Such fearmongering and false rhetoric have real consequences. Accurate and inclusive quality sex education helps reduce adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV, and promotes healthy relationships. Undermining the dignity of LGBT youth and other students in sex education classes can cause long-term harm.  

If Poland’s government really wants to protect children and families, President Duda should veto the “Lex Czarnek” bill, and authorities should uphold children’s right to be taught comprehensive sexuality education.

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