Two Irish academics have proposed overturning a parent’s right to decide if their child will attend sex-education classes. 

Universtiy College Cork lecturers Dr.s Aoife Daly and Catherine O’Sullivan have co-written a paper arguing sex-education is “primarily a child’s human right, independent of state discretion and/or parental rights.”

Published in the Human Rights Quarterly, the pair insist that framing the issue of sex education as “a child’s human right” would overcome the problem of parents opposing it, or the “notion” that parents have a right “to withhold this education from their children if they see fit.”

Alarmingly, in an interview about the paper, Dr. O’Sullivan also shared her argument for “the creation of a new defence for young people charged with sexual offences in the absence of comprehensive sexuality education.”

“This would be an exception to the general rule that ignorance of the law is no excuse,” she explained.

Lamenting the fact some parents choose not to include their children in the state’s sex-education classes, the pair write that “uneducated” children could pose “a risk to others where consent is not understood.”

“Consent is not only the basis for respectful and healthy sexual interactions but it is also the legal boundary between permissible and impermissible sexual contact,” they explain.

Whereas the paper references UNESCO’s assertion that sex-education should involve “non-judgemental information”, the academics appear unaware that their desire to include certain information in classes, and exclude the views of parents, would be a value-judgement impacting children from the outset, somewhat refuting the idea that sex education can ever be non-judgemental.

Their insistence that consent is the basis of “healthy sexual interactions” could leave parents wondering about the wisdom of setting such a low-bar, particularly when many parents want their children to seek loving marriages, rather than just consenting to any sexual experience.

The authors’ opinions on individual and societal interests, although not explored in depth, appear to be the major factor motivating their attempt to wrest control away from parents who they claim could “include discriminatory views” in any sex education attempted at home.

Indeed the absence of the words “marriage” and “family” in any part of the paper suggest the authors’ views on what constitutes a “healthy sexuality” might be radically different from the hopes many parents have for their children.

Appealing to various court decisions, including from the European Court of Human Rights, the UCC academics claim that parental convictions which are “incompatible with human dignity” or that “conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education” are not protected under human rights law, thus providing them with a basis for arguing “that the dignity of children requires the provision of sexuality education even against the wishes of parents.”

The paper concludes with a clarion call to lawmakers and judges, urging that their deliberations shift away from balancing parental rights with state obligations, to focusing primarily on the supposed right of a child to access the sexual education content which these academics and others think best for the individual and society.