Scroll down for the article

Never too young to learn #2

In a report published in 2016, the Dutch Inspectorate of Education euphemistically referred to it as an ‘inability to provide adequate educational support’. Although schools in the Netherlands have been legally obliged to discuss sexuality, sexual assertiveness and sex education since 2012, too little is still being done in this regard. This is often due to a feeling of embarrassment among the teachers. Rutgers endeavours to assist people in overcoming their embarrassment, both in the Netherlands and abroad.

“In order to make love and sexuality issues that are discussable at school, one has to ensure that all parties involved – teachers, pupils and parents – speak the same language. Do you allow the children to broach the issue themselves, or is it better to use a teaching package? These are matters which a school has to carefully consider in advance, so that nobody has to feel uncomfortable.’’

Naomi Smits (Teacher of primary year 4)

Feverish survey

The Week of Spring Fever offers useful solutions in this regard. Organised for the eleventh time in 2016, this theme week comprising lessons about relationships and sexuality has become a highly popular event at Dutch primary schools. And it is evidently sorely needed, as the findings of a recent survey held among both parents and children show that, while children are highly curious about such matters, topics like falling in love, relationships, sexual boundaries and sexual diversity are rarely discussed either at home or at school. This was the first survey to actually ask 9 to 12-year-old children themselves about issues relating to sexuality. The survey was jointly organised by Rutgers and the Dutch TV’s Children’s News programme (Jeugdjournaal). The latter featured an item about the survey on 14 March 2016.

Screenshot Dutch TV’s Children’s News programme

1,000 children participated in the survey. 59% of them said they had discussed sexual boundaries with their parents, whereas 25% had been taught about it at school, and 31% had never discussed the issue with anyone.


Butterflies in your Tummy

Rutgers was also engaged in the development of new educational material in 2016. The online teaching method ‘Kriebels in je Buik’ (Dutch) which translates as Butterflies in your Tummy, makes it not only more enjoyable but also easier for primary school teachers to compile their own lessons about relationships, sexuality and assertiveness. Kriebels in je Buik is a sequel to the highly popular ‘printed’ Relationships & Sexuality programme (Dutch) used in many Dutch schools.


Programmes devoting attention to sex education on primetime television in Italy caused considerable commotion during 2016. According to the Rai 3 channel, the ‘taboo of sex’ does not belong on the early evening schedule, when large numbers of children watch TV together with their parents. In the debate that followed, the Dutch approach (including the Week of Spring Fever) was cited as an good example of how this can be achieved successfully.

going forward

Children need to become aware of their own wishes and boundaries. The topic chosen for the 2017 edition of the Week of Spring Fever is therefore Respect.


Talking to young people about sexuality can be difficult and sometimes rather awkward. Even in a tolerant country like the Netherlands. In many other countries, however, it is almost impossible. Rutgers is therefore involved in various projects and programmes aimed at sex education and the empowerment of young people throughout the world.

Kenya and Uganda

Twelve schools in Kenya and Uganda were involved in Rutgers’ Whole School Approach in 2016. An online manual was also developed for the pilot this sexuality education programme.
Education on the subjects of sexuality and family planning is certainly not taken for granted in Uganda. In fact, its Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development placed a ban on sexual education in schools in 2016. The fact that young people there were far from happy with this decision became evident at a meeting organised by our partner organisation RAHU. 3000 young people expressed their discontent at the ministry’s ban during this event.


Rutgers was also actively involved in various programmes in Burundi in 2016. This includes the publication and distribution of educational material in French, such as the booklet entitled ‘Maman, d’où viennent les bébés?’ Social media were also used to reach young people on the matter of sexual health and rights. In 2016 a joint survey set up in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Makerere University in Uganda studied the sexual development of young people in Burundi: do they actually put what they learn about sexuality into practice?

“Boys can also be victims of rape’’

SMS sent to young people (in French) (In Burundi)

Get Up, Speak Out!

In 2016, Rutgers led the new multi-year programme Get Up, Speak Out for Youth Rights (GUSO). The programme is a partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Six development organizations involved in the programme are currently collaborating through national alliances with a total of fifty local organizations in seven countries.

In a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  funding is not only provided for a programme (such as GUSO) but the ministry also takes part in the design and development. The ministry also has a seat in the steering committee.


GUSO is not just your standard programme. Its aim is to empower girls and boys in developing countries to deal positively and responsibly with their sexuality. The alliances in the countries involved have written their own programmes with young people and the young people are helping to coordinate the implementation. This division of tasks ensures that good information is provided from all angles, and that a good referral system is in place. Furthermore, young people are treated with respect and taken seriously when they visit a health centre with questions about sexuality. Through this collaboration, all areas can be covered at once and it helps everyone to stay focused on the important issues. Young people can also more convincingly convey the need for reliable information to those in politics or government because they experience the need themselves. And, like no one else, they know how to use social media to inform other young people about what they want to know. Through social media, messages and videos are shared, for example, on HIV testing, ‘safe sex’ and the proper use of contraceptives.

In Kenya alone, we managed to reach some 1300 young people within the course of just a year, providing facts and information about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).


Minister Ploumen at the Young & In Control Event (Credits: Freek van den Bergh)

Young & in Control

Rutgers continues to promote the campaign to raise awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights. That was the message put across at the well-attended international Young & in Control event held in The Hague. Mrs Lilianne Ploumen (Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade) was also present to participate in discussions with young people from Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana and the Netherlands, and to hear their personal stories. The event was organised to mark the close of the international UFBR (Unite for Body Rights) and ASK (Access, Services and Knowledge) programmes run by Rutgers and its partners. These two programmes campaigned for the rights and interests of young people in Asian and African countries from 2013 through 2015.

“Well, sexual and reproductive health and rights, it’s an issue that keeps me awake at night.’’

Mrs Ploumen (During the Young & in Control event)

Share this article