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Kyrgyzstan Education Ministry Withdraws Sex Education Textbook Discussing HIV/AIDS, Condom Use

December 23, 2003

The Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Education in September withdrew a new sex education book that was to be used in schools this year following a "floo[d]" of public criticism, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The book, titled "Healthy Way of Life," is a teacher's guide to teaching sex education and other topics such as tobacco and drug use. Boris Shapiro, the book's author and a physician who heads an AIDS clinic in the capital city Bishkek, said that increasing numbers of HIV/AIDS cases showed that teenagers needed "frank advice" on how to slow the spread of HIV in the former Soviet republic, "where talk of sex in families is often taboo," according to the AP/Inquirer. Kyrgyzstan has registered more than 450 HIV-positive people, but officials believe that the actual number is much higher. Most HIV cases are related to injection drug use, and sex work is on the rise because of the country's poor economic situation. "Teachers were saying they didn't know AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. And doctors were saying they didn't know methods of teaching," Shapiro said. Shapiro wrote the book over two years with the input of high school students. After a public comment period on the text -- during which time Shapiro said that he received no comments -- about 2,000 copies of the book were published in 2001 with a portion of $600,000 in funds from the Kyrgyz government and the United Nations.

Public Outcry
Following the book's publication, Akin Toktaliyev, head of the organization To Protect the Dignity of the Kyrgyz People, filed a lawsuit against Shapiro, asking for $120,000 in "moral damages," according to the AP/Inquirer. Toktaliyev claimed in the suit that his son had been "corrupted" by the book and that the text did not take into account Kyrgyz culture, the AP/Inquirer reports. "Our mentality has existed for centuries and will live for quite long," Toktaliyev said, adding that Shapiro's "goal is to ruin our society, to spoil young people, and teach them sex." The book's "most controversial" sections include a series of cartoons showing a man putting on a condom and a passage on masturbation. Education Minister Ishengul Boljurova said that although some parts of the book were respectable, the ministry had received many letters, including some from top officials, urging her to withdraw the book. "People want to hide from the problems," Nina Meshkova, a psychologist at a private high school in Bishkek, said, adding that opponents of the book "don't see the problems Shapiro sees" with the rising number of AIDS cases in the country (Toktogulov, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/21).

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