Sex education or propaganda?

The education ministry, under the direction of a Cabinet committee, has once again failed in its duty to educate young people by pursuing its own misguided propaganda. Supplementary material, some 1.3 million copies of which were distributed to high school students in a health class this summer, contained a falsified and misleading chart about the relation between age and ability to have children.

The material was aimed at encouraging female high school students to “lead a healthy life.” However, what the material actually stated was that after the age of 22, a woman’s ability to have children declines precipitously. The chart offered as evidence was taken from foreign researchers. However, the original chart was changed to make it appear that the age of 22 is the peak age for bearing children. To do that, the educational material added a dotted, vertical line not in the original graph and reworked the curve of the graph to give an incorrect representation of the studies’ results.

The research from varied sources in many countries actually shows that there is no specific peak age for childbearing. Rather, there are peak years through the 20s to the early 30s when women tend to be more fecund. Even that research is tentative, because childbearing is highly dependent on social and cultural factors. The average age of marriage, personal decisions on conception delay and accurate reporting on the use of contraception, amongst many other factors, make it extremely difficult to determine a peak age for bearing children.

Despite all this evidence, and these complicating factors, the material distributed in Japanese high schools stated that 22 is the peak age for women to have children. The Cabinet Office committee pushing the material was surely attempting to address the nation’s continued low birthrate. However, the solution to that problem is not to give spurious information to high school students.

The incorrect information is also a serious problem because the education ministry did not give students good examples of solid research, conclusive findings and accurate citations. The chart used in the material was falsified, incorrectly cited and left unexplained. Surely, that is not real scientific education. In short, it seems the material was telling young women what to think and what to do.

Much better would be a program of sexual education based on accurate research with appropriate age-level discussions. Teenagers need to learn the basic essential facts about their bodies and their future potential to have children.

Misinforming teenagers with misappropriated and misleading information is not the way to raise the birthrate in Japan. If the government wants to accomplish this goal, it should provide more child care facilities, ensure companies uphold the right of their employees to take maternity leave and child care leave and still easily return to their jobs, and pressure companies to encourage their employees to go home at a decent hour so they can spend more time with their families.