Save the Children demands that “Education for health” be accessible to teenagers over 14 without parental consent

At the age of 15, 1 in 4 Romanian boys (24%) and 1 in 7 girls (14%) declared that they had sexual contact, and 1 in 4 teenagers who have sex do not use protection methods.

PHOTO Save the Children

At the level of the European Union, almost half of the births to mothers under the age of 15 (45%) are registered in Romania. Denmark, the country that was the first in the world to introduce sex education in schools (1930), has one of the lowest rates of births among teenage girls between 15 and 19 years old, more than 8 times lower than that of teenage girls in Romania (at level of 2017). In this context, Salvați Copiii is launching the We want health education in schools! campaign, which calls for unlimited access of adolescents over 14 years of age to health education programs, without the need for parental consent, Salvați Copiii reported.

At the level of the European Union, 20 states have included health education in the school curriculum, with mandatory participation, which also includes the sexual education component.

“Health education is an adolescent right, not a social stigma. It is important to act for the benefit of our children, and not by virtue of social prejudices that may put children at risk. Access to information means health, knowledge of rights and security”says Andreea Raicu, the campaign ambassador.

According to recent research, 77% of Romanians agree with the teaching of education about sexuality in school, provided that this subject is scientifically based, including notions regarding the risks of starting a sexual life, protection against diseases, reproduction, abortion, gender identity and involving the participation of professionals from the fields of psychology and medicine.

“We are convinced of the importance of ensuring a legislative framework that facilitates unrestricted access to health education, recognizing the ability of children to understand and benefit from the information received, in the spirit of protecting and promoting their fundamental rights. Our approach is essential, given that motherhood at a young age, sometimes under 15, exposes these young mothers to the risk of dropping out of school, of entering the vicious circle of poverty, with a transgenerational effect. At the same time, the risk of premature birth also has consequences on the health of the newborn”, explained Gabriela Alexandrescu, Executive President of Save the Children Romania.

Sexual education programs in the European Union

The curriculum discipline in which sexuality education is taught, as well as the skills of the teachers involved, also vary across the European continent. Sometimes sexuality education is taught as a separate subject, but more often than not, it is integrated into other subjects. It seems obvious that sexuality education should be integrated into biology, but in the EU this is not the rule. Sexuality education can be taught separately or integrated into many other subjects: civics, social orientation or social skills, health (promotion), philosophy, religion, language or sports education.

In the EU, 20 states have included health education in the school curriculum, with compulsory participation, which also includes the sex education component: Croatia, Ireland, France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Denmark, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg. The other states (Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania) allow optional participation in subjects that refer to aspects of sex education.

A useful example is Croatia, where sex education has become compulsory as a result of strong support from parents (70%) and teenagers (80%). From the experience of Save the Children, similar to children in Croatia, at least three quarters of children between the ages of 11 and 18 expressed their desire to participate in information classes on this topic.

How are things in Romania?

In Romania, the Parliament adopted, in 2022, amendments to Law 272/2004 on the protection and promotion of children's rights, establishing that health education programs will be systematically carried out in school units from the eighth grade, with the written consent of the parents , in order to prevent the contracting of sexually transmitted diseases and the pregnancy of minors.

Opposing this regulation, the proposal of the Save the Children Organization established that, for children's participation in health education classes, the written consent of parents or legal representatives will be requested only in the case of children under 14 years of age, considering that adolescents (14-18 years ) have enough discernment to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to be informed about essential aspects of their lives and sexuality.

This argument is supported by a series of regulations that grant children certain rights to express their consent on legal acts with important effects on their development or that establish forms of responsibility for them, among which we mention:

– according to the Criminal Code, criminal responsibility begins at 14 years, provided that discernment is proven at the time of committing the criminal act, and from 16 years, without this condition.

– according to the Labor Code, from the age of 16, teenagers acquire full work capacity, without the need for the consent of their parents or legal representatives.

– according to Law 95/2006 on health reform, also from the age of 16, teenagers can express their consent, in the absence of their parents/legal representatives, in medical situations related to the diagnosis and/or treatment of sexual and reproductive problems.

– according to the Civil Code, from the age of 16, teenagers can apply to the court to obtain early exercise capacity, which means the adult's full exercise capacity.

– according to law 272/2004 on the promotion and protection of children's rights, the religion of a child who has reached the age of 14 cannot be changed without his consent, and from the age of 16, he has the right to choose his own religion. The child has the right to free association in formal and informal structures, as well as freedom of peaceful assembly, at ages that allow this, depending on the context and the risks associated with his participation. Also, starting from the age of 16, children can also be accommodated in the reception and accommodation centers subordinated to the General Inspectorate for Immigration.

Taking into account the above regulations, it is obvious that the principle of social interest of children's gradual participation in decisions that directly concern them is annulled. The legal inconsistency of art. 46, paragraph 3, letter i of Law 272/2004 with the other internal regulations regarding the decision-making capacity of children seriously affects the right of children and adolescents to information and protection, says Save the Children.

Comprehensive sex education programs in educational institutions not only delay the start of sexual life, but also improve the methods of protection in the sexual behavior of young people, their ability to establish boundaries in relationships, thus contributing essentially to reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies unwanted The most important impact identified among children and adolescents who have accessed these programs is the considerable improvement in their ability to detect, prevent and report sexual abuse. In the absence of health education, taking into account the lack of skills of the majority of Romanian parents to adequately conduct sexual education in the family, children and adolescents will remain captive either to the online environment where sexuality takes on extremely dangerous and abusive forms, or to the group of friends , equally poorly informed and prepared to offer advice in this sensitive area, the Association stated.