Is not requiring HIV/AIDS education a violation of human rights?

Is it a violation of a human right not to be taught the accurate way to use a condom, when this basic health-related information could help prevent many STIs including HIV/AIDS?

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights writes in its report “The Right to Health,” that “the right to health contains entitlements. These entitlements include: The right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health; The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases;  Access to essential medicines; Maternal, child and reproductive health; Equal and timely access to basic health services; The provision of health-related education and information; Participation of the population in health-related decision-making at the national and community levels.”

In the US, as of August 1st, 2011, only 33 states plus DC mandate STI/ HIV education and only 20 states and DC mandate sex education. The Kaiser Family Foundation provides a comprehensive list of states sex education requirements. The US is a world superpower yet allows its youth to go without basic health-related education and information. How are we allowing students in seventeen states to graduate high school without the knowledge of how HIV/AIDS or hepatitis is contracted? Without mandating that such basic health information be provided, we are not only denying citizens their right to health-related eduction but also seriously handicapping their ability to participate in health-related decision-making.

On National Public Radio, Nora Gelperin, director of training and education, Answer, and Dr. Diane Foley, pediatrician and director of Education for a Lifetime have a conversation about whether abstinence education or a comprehensive sex education is more valuable.

Some concerns are brought up about consequences of providing certain health information. Does teaching about a behavior, such as sex, and the health-related information, give permission and encourage the behavior? Some sex education programs believe that abstinence and the existence of STIs and HIV/AIDS should be taught, but not how to prevent these infections.

Kaiser Family Foundation reports, “Those between the ages of 13 and 29 accounting for 39% of new HIV infections in 2009, the largest share of any age group.”

So again I ask: Is it a violation of a human right not to be taught the accurate way to use a condom, when this basic health-related information could help prevent many STIs including HIV/AIDS?

The New York Times article “New Sex Education Mandate Taking Effect” gives hope for more health education being permitted and required in New York public schools and also gives details as to what specific information may or may not be taught.

1 comment
  1. This is a really great,provocative post. Does specific information about sexual performance constitute a basic health need, in a way that depriving someone of that info would constitute a violation of her human rights? Is a tutorial on proper condom use essentially the same as a supply of uncontaminated water?

    I do have a couple of concerns about what the Kaiser Family Foundation says.

    First, to say that 39% of new HIV infections occur between the ages of 13 and 29 is to say nothing. Consider that sexual acquisition of HIV basically doesn’t happen unless someone has had intercourse with a new partner (I’m leaving parenteral spread of HIV out of this for the time being, although similar concerns would apply). Consider further that after age 65 (possibly earlier in life but I want to be as conservative as possible in my assumptions), the rate of acquiring new sexual partners declines for most people. Now, there are about 200 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 65, of which about 90 million are between 15 and 29. And 90/200 = 45%. So it’s hardly surprising that about 40% of new infections occur in a group that constitutes 45% of the population most likely to get infected. In fact, I wonder why it’s ONLY 39%.

    Second, does it have to be either/or — either “comprehensive” sex education, which includes condom training, or abstinence-based sex education?

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