CHISINAU, Moldova – Cristi, 16, is passionate about skateboarding, computer programming, and poetry. Though he just graduated from high school, he never received any sexuality education during his years in the classroom – Moldova doesn’t have any as part of its official curriculum.
Instead, Cristi has joined some 300 Y-Peer Moldova peer educators who regularly hold educational sessions for other young people to teach them about their bodies and their health, including how to keep themselves safe from sexually transmitted infections and avoid unintended pregnancies.
“When I joined the Y-Peer network two years ago, my parents were supportive of my decision, but that wasn’t the case with all of my teachers, or even some of my friends,” Cristi says. “Nonetheless, I have become a national trainer and had the chance to lead informational sessions for young people all over the country.”
Almost 10,000 young people benefited last year from educational activities organised by Y-Peer Moldova, which receives support from UNFPA for its mission of providing young people with information about sexual and reproductive health and youth-friendly health services.
But this figure represents only 2.5 per cent of all the young people in the country, whose total population of 3.5 million includes 400,000 adolescent girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 19. Statistics moreover show a major unmet need for sexuality education in Moldova, where adolescent pregnancy rates are twice as high as in the European Union and the rate of new HIV infections among young people has almost doubled over the past 15 years.
“In order to ensure that young people stay happy and healthy and continue to fulfil their dreams in life, we need to ensure that all of them, without exception, have access to sexuality education that gives them the information and skills they need to make responsible decisions,” said Rita Columbia, the UNFPA Representative in Moldova.
Parents, schools, community members, the government, civil-society organisations, and young people themselves all need to be part of a joint effort to ensure such education becomes available to everyone, participants agreed during a public discussion on sexuality education that was organised in late July by the Feminist Initiatives Group of Moldova. Both Y-Peer educator Cristi and UNFPA’s Columbia attended the event, as did the famous Romanian vlogger Adriana Radu, who founded the online sex-education platform Sexul versus Barza.
Participants in the discussion emphasised that sexuality education is not the final goal in itself, but rather an effective tool to help young people get the necessary information to stay healthy, including in terms of their sexual and reproductive health, and become empowered to make smart decisions in life. A joint effort to ensure access to sexuality education is essential because the well-being of young people is in everybody’s interest.
“Those young people who understand the importance of sexuality education should speak up and start building a network of advocates,” said UNFPA’s Columbia. “I really hope that we can unite our voices and create demand throughout society for sexuality education.”
Most schools in Eastern Europe and Central Asia do not offer comprehensive sexuality education, although there is clear evidence from countries that have introduced such programmes that they contribute to reducing teenage pregnancy and abortions, and lead to lower infection rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
* A version of this story first appeared on the website of UNFPA Moldova.