The Education Department will be studying the discussions and recommendations that came out of a conference that has laid the ground work for sexuality to be part of the curriculum for children starting grade R (reception grade, prior to grade 1) next year.

The three day conference on the theme, “Protecting the Right to Innocence”, looked at broad issues around sexuality including sexual violence and abuse, youth culture, sex work and pornography among other topics.

Discussions at the conference – attended by traditional and religious leaders as well as education professionals and NGOs – have begun the process of formulating an appropriate response to unacceptably high levels of abuse, sexual violence and HIV infection in schools.

It closed on a positive and upbeat note with a commitment to working in a way that unites people rather than looking at exclusive issues like race and culture. In closing the conference, Minister of Education Kader Asmal said that government had shown it had a crucial role to play in the process and the momentum would have to be maintained.

The education department will be publishing the conference proceedings and studying the resolutions in order to draw up a national plan of action and guidelines on how sexuality education will be taught, who will teach it and when it will be taught.

An important realisation that came out of the conference was that the problems relating to sexuality in schools did not require more legislation because there were already laws in place but many of them are not used properly.

“We changed the Schools Act to make it easier to dismiss people but this is not being used by the provinces,” said Asmal.

Asmal said that an important consideration was the increase in the flow of information. He pointed out that he had only just become aware of the life skills produced by the organisation Soul City. He praised the quality of their materials saying that there needed to be much stronger partnerships between government and NGOs and better communication between different levels of government.

Asmal said the education department could not do it alone and he called for closer ties with communities, traditional leaders, healers and faith organisations. “We are looking for greater initiative from the churches, they should not be hiding behind formula,” he said.