Parliamentary panel's suggestions on wider course cover issues parents clearly failing to address

In an ideal world, parents would teach their children respectful attitudes to sex. In reality, that is not always happening. Not only are some parents failing to accept their responsibility but their children are living in a world where the development of such attitudes can be readily undermined by the scourge of internet pornography. Thus there was little surprise when Parliament's health select committee recommended that sex education in schools should include more than a narrow focus on the physical mechanics of sex and reproduction. As much seemed a reasonable way of righting attitudes that the Roast Busters case suggested had become askew.

Most New Zealanders agreed. A Herald-DigiPoll survey indicated three-quarters believed that high-school pupils needed to be taught more than the mechanics of sex. Respect for themselves and partners and their futures should also be emphasised.

This was lamentably absent when the Auckland teenagers who called themselves the Roast Busters boasted on the internet about having sex with drunk and underage girls.

The Prime Minister, however, has reservations. He suggested the Government would have to tread carefully because some parents felt expanded sex education would cut across their responsibilities and rights. At one time, that might have seemed a reasonable response.


Arguments about individual morality and cultural sensitivity have made this an area in which governments have hesitated to intrude. They know also that there will be a backlash from a minority who believe sex education has no place in schools and is the plaything of dissolute liberals.

But what the select committee has suggested is far removed from that.

Ideally, boys would have improved attitudes and girls would be safer and better understand their rights. At present ... the balance may be tilted against this outcome.

The expanded sex education, to be monitored by the Education Review Office, would mean students would be much better placed to make respectful and informed choices.

Ideally, boys would have improved attitudes and girls would be safer and better understand their rights. At present, especially when parents do not involve themselves, the balance may be tilted against this outcome.

That unfortunate situation is simply reinforced by the current state of sex education, which the select committee said was patchy, outdated and often non-existent.

This finding, as with the bulk of its comprehensive and wide-ranging report on the promotion of children's wellbeing, was widely applauded.

The Medical Association said it was delighted by "the most impressive set (of recommendations) we have seen in a long time". But the Government's overall response has been lukewarm. Overall, it has accepted just 55 of the 130 recommendations for changes to sex education, healthcare, maternity care, alcohol abuse, nutrition and early intervention programmes. A further 54 have been partly accepted, 14 have been noted, and seven rejected.

The Government's attitude is that it is already on the job with programmes such as the Vulnerable Children's Action Plan and the Healthy Families NZ initiative. Health Minister Tony Ryall says these have been tailored to the early intervention principle emphasised by the select committee. But its programmes are limited in scope and come nowhere close to matching the comprehensiveness of the committee's suggestions.


More concrete evidence of the Government's approach is expected in the Budget. This may yet placate some in the health field who were disappointed by its initial reaction. That will be especially so if sex education in schools is updated to meet the challenges of the world today.