Children should be able to withdraw from religious classes but not sex education, says UN committee

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Sex education lessons for adolescents should be mandatory but children of all ages should be allowed to opt out of religious classes, a UN committee has told the UK.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in recommendations published on Friday, said that faith schools and parents should not have any right to opt out of sex education.

It advised that in the case of adolescents, UK and Northern Ireland governments should "integrate comprehensive, age-appropriate and evidence-based education on sexual and reproductive health into mandatory school curricula at all levels of education and into teacher training, and ensure that it includes education on sexual diversity, sexual and reproductive health rights, responsible sexual behaviour and violence prevention, without the possibility for faith-based schools or parents to opt out of such education".

They should also repeal laws making attendance in collective worship compulsory while introducing statutory guidance "to ensure the right of all children, including children under 16 years of age, to withdraw from religious classes without parental consent".

According to the CRC report, schools in England should be prevented from using religion as an admission criteria.

The RE syllabus in Northern Ireland should be revised "to include education on and respect for a diversity of religions", the CRC said.

Relationships education has been compulsory in English schools since September 2020. Sex education is taught in secondary schools and parents have the right to withdraw their children up until three terms before their 16th birthday, after which time the child has the right to opt in.

The recommendations were made by the CRC in its concluding observations on the combined sixth and seventh reports of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.