A sex education program that has been taught in classrooms across nine provinces will be rolled out nationwide by 2019 in an effort to reduce a teenage pregnancy rate that has been ticking upward.
Initially introduced in 2013 as a pilot project, the program teaches students in primary, secondary and high schools about safe sex, sexual diversity and orientation, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and gender-based violence and abuse.
The Ministry of Education is expanding the program to curb an increase seen over the past few years in pregnancies among girls aged 15 to 19, said Marc Derveeuw, the U.N. Population Fund’s representative to Cambodia.
The pregnancy rate for that group increased from 8 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2014, according to a country briefing published by the Population Fund last year.
Pregnancies are a consequence of “community expectations and traditional mindsets, lack of education, lack of sexual and reproductive health knowledge and the lack of understanding of the social and health implications involved with pregnancy at a very young age,” the briefing says.
Sek Sokhom, youth health program manager at the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia, said the organization had recommended the government review its sex education curriculum and make it a core subject in grades 5 to 12.
The Education Ministry responded earlier this year with a commitment to follow through on both recommendations, she said.
The expansion is a positive step forward, but will require the government to overcome cultural barriers that hinder efforts to educate students, Ms. Sokhom said.
Some teachers skip the subject because it is a “sensitive issue,” while others don’t teach it fully, she said. The curriculum also has met opposition from some parents.
Chan Theary, executive director of Cambodia’s Reproductive and Child Healthcare Alliance, said sex education had improved over the past decade, but the government needed to do more.
Education Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said sex education initiatives had been introduced over the past decade, but that he could not speak to the latest plans.