Human rights activists, students and teachers in Poland are looking forward to this week when President Andrzej Duda decides whether to sign a dangerous bill that will strengthen state control over what students can and cannot learn, threatening access to an already limited complex sex education (CSE).
If passed, a bill titled “Lex Czarnek” in honor of Education Minister Przemysl Czarnek would give government “education officials” the power to decide what extracurricular or educational activities may take place in schools, and establish a complicated bureaucracy around approving or denying such activities. . . These employees will also be involved in the decision-making process on the removal of directors, which raises concerns that the dismissal will be politicized.
Proponents of the bill, including members of the conservative ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) and union groups, say it protects children and parental rights. But government leaders in Poland are increasingly using arguments such as the smokescreen to attack the reproductive and rights of women and girls, as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT). This includes suppressing CSE, which seems to be the real goal of the bill.
Educational groups on sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and positive attitudes – all part of the essential CSE – have sounded the alarm. They are often the only CSE providers in Poland, where the school curriculum promotes 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 CSE-providing school districts of threatening so-called traditional families and “morally corrupting” children. An earlier bill introduced by PiS’s right-wing allies, which are currently on government committees, essentially criminalizes those who provide sex education or information, and could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Under the PiS government, teachers and school administrations that support sex education and reproductive rights have been harassed, dragged through administrative processes, and their work threatened.
Such fears and false rhetoric have real consequences. Accurate and inclusive quality sex education helps reduce teenage pregnancy, maternal mortality and HIV, and promotes healthy relationships. Undermining the dignity of LGBT youth and other students in sex education lessons can do long-term harm.
If the Polish government really wants to protect children and families, President Duda must veto the Lex Czarnek bill, and the authorities must uphold the right of children to receive comprehensive sex education.