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Concordat Watch - Poland - content area

“Stork, bring me a bundle”: Sex education in Poland (2009)

The Polish government decided in 2009 that compulsory sex education is unconstitutional. A report released the same year reveals what actually goes on in these ― now optional ― classes. Youngsters have been taught that homosexuals should be quarantined and cured, that contraception is an invention of Satan, and that condoms can lead to impotence. 

 1. Introduction
 2. “Learning about sex is unconstitutional”  
 3. Summary of study on sex education in Polish schools

Introduction

Sex education in Poland is being impeded by an appeal to "parental rights". In 2009 Deputy Minister Krystyna Szumilas wortoe in an official statement that “The ministry of National Education will respect the parents’ constitutional right [1] to provide for their children an education and a moral and religious upbringing in accordance with their beliefs". [2]

These beliefs can condemn any mention of human reproductive biology. According to Paweł Wosicki, a prominent politician of the ruling Law and Justice party, President of the Voice for Life Foundation (Głos dla życia) and father of seven children: “The ‘biological’ approach leads to promiscuity. I wouldn’t like my children learn in school how to use a condom. This instruction encourages them to engage in sexual activity.” [3]

And he is not alone. The government in power from 2007 to 2009 also opposed the “biological” or factual approach, and said they were legally compelled to do so.

Church and Government moves to limit sexual knowledge began in tandem in 1993 as part of the clampdown on abortion. Under Communism, induced abortion was a common method of birth control in Poland, due to the difficulty in obtaining modern contraceptives. [4] However, rather than making abortion less prevalent by increasing access to family planning, the government, in “consultation” [5] with the Church, severely limited abortion.

In theory the 1993 statute, popularly known as the “Anti-abortion Act”, still allows abortion where the mother's health or life is in danger, the foetus is deformed, or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. [6] However, "the application of the Polish abortion law is even stricter than the law itself," says Wanda Nowicka, from the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning. [7]

The "Anti-abortion Act" did even more than restrict the procedure: it also provided for sex education classes in state schools. Then, after the Act had been passed, its content was revised to conform to Church teaching. At the end of 1998 the clause mandating classes called “Knowledge of human sexual life” was deleted from the Anti-abortion Act. In its place, a ministerial regulation brought in “Education in Family Life”. [8] (This bait-and-switch tactic closely mirrors the procedure used to get Catholic catechism taught in state schools.)

Learning about sex is unconstitutional
Anna Monkos, Dziennik Poleca, 5 April 2009 [9]

There will be no compulsory sex education classes in Polish schools. The reason? Because according to the Ministry of Education it would violate the Constitution. “The state has no right to infringe on the parents’ right to raise their children as they see fit. Sexuality borders on moral issues”, says Michael Baran of the Catholic Youth Association.

In January [2009] the Polish Teachers’ Association and several other organizations signed the “Agreement for the dissemination of sex education.” The authors argued that Poland is divided from other European countries by a “civilization gap”. They called for the introduction of compulsory sex education, which would include lessons on how to prevent pregnancy and HIV / AIDS.

The government disagrees. In an offical statement Deputy Minister Krystyna Szumilas said, "The Department of Education will respect the right, enshrined in the Constitution, of parents to provide their children with education and moral and religious instruction in accordance with their beliefs.”

From the new academic year [September 2009] “Education for life in the family” classes will no longer be part of “Knowledge of society”, but a separate subject. However, children will not have to attend them if their parents do not wish it.

Representatives of Nobody’s Children Foundation [the largest Polish organization aimed at preventing child abuse] do not hide their disappointment. “After all, if parents do not accept Darwin's theory, this is no reason for their child not to take biology” says Maria Keller-Hamel of the Foundation’s board. And Grzegorz Południewski of the Family Development Association says, “After all, nothing is forced on the young people at these classes, but they are offered information about health and hygiene.”

Michael Baran of the Catholic Youth Association disagrees. He calls the idea of introducing compulsory sex education “unacceptable”. “The state has no right to infringe on the parents' right to raise their children as they see fit. Sexuality borders on moral issues. Speaking, for example, of  contraception, it should be emphasized that its use makes the partners start treating each other as objects.”

 2009 Ponton Study on sex education in Poland [10]
(summary)

A group of volunteer educators, “Ponton”, tries to help try to clear up misconceptions about sex. They offer a summer hotline to to teenagers who text in questions. On the basis of their work they issue a yearly reports. Their report for the 2008 summer hotline is available online in English.

And that is not all. During the school year they go into classrooms to discuss sex education with the students and offer counseling. In June 2009 they released a study of the officially authorised “Education in Family Life” classes for schools with representative comments by students. These give a behind-the-scenes look at how the law is actually being applied in the classroom. Here are some translated selections from the 2009 “Ponton” report on sex education classes in Polish schools (Jaka naprawdę wygląda edukacja seksualna w polskich szkołach? Raport z 2009 roku

“The value of the family”?

— “In secondary school [the teacher for “Education in Family Life”] informed us that a single-parent family is pathological.” [11]
 — “The teacher attempted to tell us that children from families where there is no father or no mother grow up to be abnormal, before I made her realise that 11 out of 13 students in class were being brought up by single mothers. [12]

“The methods and means of planned procreation”?

— “The school told us that only the rhythm method can prevent pregnancy, because condoms are the invention of Satan.” [13]
— The teacher of “Education in Family Life” gave us a "lecture on the harmfulness of using of condoms (which contain holes which viruses can penetrate, so there’s no point in using them anyway)." [14]
— We were told "that condoms are not an effective method, because a condom can cause constriction to the penis, cutting off the blood supply, which can lead to lifelong impotence.” [15]

“Knowledge of human sexual life”?

— “In high school we had a priest who thought that sex is for animals and humans should have sex only if they want to have children. Even within marriage the husband can not have sex with his wife during her infertile days, as that is incompatible with the teaching of the Church”. [16]
— “My secondary school classes were run by a teacher of Catholic Religious Education. About homosexuals she said indignantly that there is no place for them in the world, that homosexuality is a kind of disease and that it is not possible that emotions are involved in it.” [17]
— “In the lessons [the teacher] read us Sunday's Guest [Gość Niedzielny, a Catholic magazine]  and claimed that if a girl is raped it's her own fault, she should suffer and she should be excommunicated.” [18]
— The teacher stressed that sex “should serve only for procreation, that it’s something bad and deriving pleasure from it is a sin.” [19]

“Life in the prenatal phase”? 

— “We were also shown films showing abortions being performed, which I deliberately did not watch…. (Incidentally, in Religious Education lessons we got more of the same.)…As soon as the teacher realised that I deliberately avoided watching, she picked on me again and [said] I am just trying to escape the truth, that these are facts of life and I have to face them, because if this foetus is forced to endure this then I have to at least look, as it might stop me from doing this thing myself (…) This teacher …did not deny that, for her, in each case only the embryo counted, never the mother, even in cases where the rights of the mother were guaranteed by law (e.g. rape) she had no doubt that abortion should not be allowed. [20]

After the report came out, an internet portal asked readers to submit their own experiences, and the accounts posted there turned out to be more of the same. [21] These accounts are not isolated incidents, but appear to be representative.

A curious fact is that there is no set curriculum for “Education in Family Life”, which means that the teacher has a free hand. This appears to be part of the strategy, since the survey found that a quarter of the teachers also taught Catholic Religious Education. [22] 


Notes

* References for the deadly myth of holes in condoms:

CM Roland, “The barrier performance of latex rubber”, Rubber World, June 1993, Vol. 208 Issue 3, p15. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+barrier+performance+of+latex+rubbeg-a014089514

“Croisade contre le préservatif”, L'Express, 02 June 1994. http://www.lexpress.fr/informations/croisade-contre-le-preservatif_607524.html

Cecil Adams, “Can HIV pass through the pores in latex condoms?” A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge, 06 May 1994. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1178/can-hiv-pass-through-the-pores-in-latex-condoms

1. Article 53.3 of the Constitution which is used as an argument against mandatory sex education states: “Parents shall have the right to ensure their children a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions.” http://www.sejm.gov.pl/prawo/konst/angielski/kon1.htm

2.  Anna Monkos, “Nauka o seksie niezgodna z konstytucją” (“The science of sex inconsistent with the Constitution”), Dziennik poleca, 5 April 2009.
http://www.dziennik.pl/polityka/article355059/Nauka_o_seksie_niezgodna_z_konstytucja.html 

3. “Droga do resortu edukacji seksualnej: Seks będzie obowiązkowy. Gdzie? W szkole” (“Road to the department of sexual education: Sex will be compulsory. Where? At school”), Dziennik poleca, 12 July 2008.  http://www.dziennik.pl/polityka/article206127/Seks_bedzie_obowiazkowy_Gdzie_W_szkole.html

4. Medard M. Lech MD, PhD, FPCOG, “Poland: from abortion to contraception... and back”, European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health Newsletter
Volume 1, Number 4, December 2004. http://www.contraception-esc.com/ESC_Newsletter4.htm

5. Consultations are held in the framework of the Joint Commission (Komisja Wspólna). This was established in 1949, under the Communists. It allowed the secret church-state dialogue which led to the Modus vivendi the next year — an agreement which was not even published in the official gazette. The Joint Commission retained its secret nature even after the fall of Communism in 1989 and was used for some of the negotiations leading to the 1993 concordat with the Vatican. As it's not a part of government its meetings and decisions are withheld, even from members of parliament, and it doesn't fall under the freedom of information act. In 1995 there was a parliamentary vote to try to force it to reveal the topics under discussion, but this was defeated. The Joint Commission meets either in the Prime Minister's office or at the headquarters of the Polish Bishops.

6. “Poland's tough abortion law comes under fire at women's rights tribunal”, Associated Press, 26 July 2001. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/sci_tech/features/health/sexwise/sw-news/views7.shtml

7. “Polish woman fights abortion case”, BBC News, 7 February 2006.
 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4688128.stm

8. Sławomir Kopański, “Edukacja seksualna w polityce władz centralnych po transformacji ustrojowej” (“Sex Education in the policy of the central authorities after the transition of the system [fall of Communism]”, 31 October 2008. http://www.racjonalista.pl/kk.php/s,6168/k,2 

9. Anna Monkos, “Nauka o seksie niezgodna z konstytucją”, Dziennik Poleca, 5 April 2009. http://www.dziennik.pl/polityka/article355059/Nauka_o_seksie_niezgodna_z_konstytucja.html 

10. Jak naprawdę wygląda edukacja seksualna w Polsce? Raport
Grupy Edukatorów Seksualnych “Ponton”
(What is really taught in sex education in Poland? Report by the “Ponton” Group of Sex Educators), June 2009, p. 12. http://www.ponton.org.pl/en/node/41 

11. Ponton (2009), p. 12

12. Ponton (2009), p. 12

13. Ponton (2009), p. 11.

14. Ponton (2009), p. 11.

15. Ponton (2009), p. 11.

16. Ponton (2009), p. 11.

17. Ponton (2009), p. 13.

18. Ponton (2009), p. 14.

19. Ponton (2009), p. 12.

20. Ponton (2009), pp. 13-14.

21. "'Jestem prezentem dla mojego męża...' czyli internauci o lekcjach WDŻ",
Gazeta.pl, 26 June 2009. http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,130438,6760988,_Jestem_prezentem_dla_mojego_meza_____czyli_internauci.html

21. Ponton (2009), p. 6.
 



Research contributed by Maciej Psyk
Translations by Renata Anderson
 


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