Sunday, June 20, 2010

Teaching Sociology: Over-population, Religion, and Sex Education

I find one of the most effective ways to illustrate how major institutions (government, religion, education, the family, work) influence individuals and the broader society is through discussion of over-population in various countries. The Philippines in particular stands as a perfect example.

Back in March 2009, Al Jazeera's "People and Power" program put together a great documentary titled, "
Critical Mass in the Philippines." The 12-minute YouTube video demonstrates how the Catholic church impacts the Philippine government, families, and schools in such a way that the already over-populated country has generally done nothing to address population growth, despite extensive poverty levels. See the video, below:

IRIN has a more recent story covering the country's evolving movement to curb over-population in the Philippines: "
Sex education plan sparks furious debate." From the IRIN story:

A controversy is raging in the Philippines over a sex education programme aimed at cutting the population growth rate, which is blamed for massive poverty in the Southeast Asian country of about 92 million.

Openly talking about sex remains taboo in many quarters of Philippine society but all that is changing as the government introduces a controversial sex education programme to public school pupils.

The influential Roman Catholic Church is demanding the plan be scrapped, but the cash-strapped government is struggling to contain an annual population growth rate of more than 2 percent.

It's interesting to note the different values being expressed by leaders of the sex education movement versus those being expressed by the Roman Catholic chuch.

“Our role here is to educate the young people on issues that directly affect them and empower them to make informed choices and decisions,” Valisno told reporters, explaining that the sex education modules would be integrated in various subjects, including science and health.

Topics will range from personal hygiene to reproductive health. Issues relating to pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, as well as HIV and AIDS, will also be discussed, she said.

And the church's point of view:

“These issues are not for children,” said Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, CBCP’s media director. “This is better left to the parents. This will just lead to promiscuity. Sex should be taught as a gift from God and not just the physical aspect of it.”

Lots of other related issues can also be discussed as they relate to over-population.
Kevin Bales, for instance, argues that over-population is among the most influential causes of contemporary slavery.

And finally, comparative research can be pulled into the discussion. At least in developed countries, Alexander McKay has conducted some of the most influential research on the topic. A very recent 2010 study speaks to the importance of sex education, teen pregnancies, and women's rise along the socio-economic ladder.
Quoting McKay:

In general, young women who are feeling optimistic about their futures tend to delay childbearing, he noted.


"As soon as we start to see the socio-economic circumstances of young women in Canada deteriorate, we can expect to see a parallel increase in the teen pregnancy rate," he said.

"In order to keep the teen pregnancy rate low, we have to ensure that teenage women in Canada are receiving high-quality sexual health education and access to sexual and reproductive health services. If those decline, we will also be seeing an increase in teen pregnancy rates going forward."

McKay cautioned that not all teen pregnancies are necessarily a bad thing.

"In some ethno-cultural communities having a child at the age of 18 or 19 can be an expected and normal thing," he said.

"But what we do find in the bigger picture is that high rates of teen pregnancy can be quite clearly linked to socio-economic disadvantage among young women in particular communities. So for example, where you see high rates of inner-city poverty in the United States, that's clearly linked to higher rates of teen pregnancy."

As sex education, hopefully quality sex education, begins to matriculate into developing countries, it will be interesting to see how effective it is in impacting teen pregnancies. In all likelihood, progress will be slow, as religious groups will probably slow these programs' growth. Still, small evaluation studies could be carried out, which could then pave the way for future public/educational policies at the national level.

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