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Long-term advocate sees efforts paying off

By XIN WEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-01-19 09:05

Despite many ups and downs, Liu Wenli is still enthusiastic about the promotion of sex education.

She described the revised Law on the Protection of Minors, which took effect on June 1, 2021, as "big progress" in the field of education because it includes a provision that schools and preschools should provide age-appropriate education for minors, improving their awareness of protecting themselves and their ability to prevent sexual assault and harassment.

Liu, a professor at Beijing Normal University who has long advocated sex education for children, said she had waited 33 years to see the topic written into law, having first become involved in 1988.

She recalled the country's first foray into the subject via "adolescent education" in the 1980s, and the decision of the State Education Commission (the predecessor of the Ministry of Education) to include a chapter about adolescence education in textbooks for junior and senior high schools in August 1988.

"It was a historic moment and marked the rapid development of sex education in the late 1980s," she said. "But the burgeoning growth didn't last long and in the 2000s, it was left to civil society groups to make an effort to develop sex education among young people, with governments rarely participating."

Liu has been active for many years. In May 2007, she launched a school-based sex education program for Beijing's migrant children.

It operated for 15 years at Xingzhi Primary School in the southern district of Daxing as students received six years of sex education from grades one to six via the UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education.

After attending the classes, students in the higher grades could better understand the relationship between family and marriage, learned to communicate and negotiate, understood behavior associated with sexual abuse and knew how to protect themselves.

"Parents also found that the education could bring them and their children closer, and improve effective communication and interaction in the family," Liu said.

In 2007, she started writing and publishing 12 textbooks for students from grades one to six, featuring six concepts ranging from family and friends, gender and rights to sexuality and healthy behavior.

However, in 2019, the textbooks were removed from the shelves because some netizens questioned the content, saying it was unsuitable for primary school students.

The ban was a big blow for Liu. "I believe our textbooks helped lots of parents and families. I know that when some sexual harassment and assaults happened, our textbooks sold well. Now, I can only help such families via online webinars and social software as the books are no longer published," she said.

After the books were pulled, Liu and her team sought more government support and policy guidance.

She kept a close eye on guidelines and regulations laid down by ministries and departments at all levels.

She also worked with deputies of the National People's Congress and members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference to submit proposals about sex education to the two sessions every year.

Her efforts eventually paid off. In September, 2021, the State Council, China's Cabinet, released a development guideline indicating that school-age children should receive sex education and noted that children's access to sexual health services needed to be significantly improved.

Meanwhile, in November, 2021, the Ministry of Education issued a guideline stating that sexual health education and prevention of sexual harassment should be included in textbooks for primary and secondary school students.

"I won't halt my work to further advocate the necessity of sex education for children, and I hope the next generation will see a more stable and safer environment in their lives," Liu said.

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