The Northern Ireland Secretary has signalled to Stormont that he will “intervene” if it fails to introduce Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) as a compulsory component to the curriculum in schools.

Shailesh Vara told the Executive it had a ‘responsibility’ to implement RSE recommendations contained in a report by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Currently, the Province’s Department of Education requires all grant-aided schools to develop their own policy on RSE, however a school can provide sex education in keeping with its own ethos.

CEDAW

In 2018 CEDAW claimed that RSE provision in Northern Ireland was “under-developed or non-existent” as a consequence of a “school’s discretion to implement curriculum contents according to its values”.

The UN committee — which says it “consists of 23 independent experts on women’s rights from around the world” — proposed the UK Government make “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents”.

It suggested that such a curriculum should include “prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion”.

These recommendations were not binding until they were given legal force by Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, passed under Theresa May’s Government but drafted by abortion activist Stella Creasy MP.

Intervention

According to the BBC, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said Mr Vara was “under a duty” to ensure CEDAW’s recommendations were carried out.

READ: RCOG issues draft guidance on ‘pregnant men’ and ‘chestfeeding’

In the statement seen by the corporation, the NIO also said: “It is our strong preference that the Department for Education ensure CEDAW compliant relationship and sexuality education is made a compulsory component of the curriculum.

“If the Department of Education is not prepared to implement the CEDAW recommendation, the secretary of state will consider using his powers to intervene.”

Forewarned

In May, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis carried out his threat to force Stormont’s Department of Health to increase abortion services in the Province under new powers granted by Westminster.

Mr Lewis was given the powers to impose abortion nationwide in line with recommendations made in the same CEDAW report that endorsed compulsory sex education for teenagers.

At the time of the abortion ‘power grab’, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland warned these powers would open up the way for Westminster to “take away the right of schools to embrace a particular ethos” in RSE lessons.

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