India health minister under fire over sex education criticism

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian activists took aim at Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday over his criticism of sex education in schools, saying it helped to reduce sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancies.

Media reports on Friday picked up on a section of Dr Vardhan's website detailing his pledges during state elections in New Delhi last December. "So-called 'sex education' to be banned. Yoga to be made compulsory," says the section on education.

"These remarks are clearly not a good thing," Ms Anjali Gopalan, director of Naz India, an organisation working in the field of gender, homosexuality and sex education, said.

"It is a known fact that instances of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections come down in societies with sex education. I don't see open talk about sex education as promoting sex," Ms Gopalan said.

It was the second time in a week that the minister, also a medical doctor, has found himself at the centre of a controversy after he appeared to suggest efforts by anti-AIDS campaigners to promote condom use could encourage "illicit relations".

In both cases, Dr Vardhan has criticised the media for misrepresenting his views.

The government information service has issued statements stating that he is not against condom use, but believes greater emphasis should be placed on promoting marital fidelity which he believes is the best protection.

Dr Vardhan said on Friday he was not against sex education, but against the sort of sex education promoted by the previous government.

"I am against 'so called' sex education not sex education per se. Crudity, vulgarity out, values in," he posted on Twitter.

He asked his critics to read his detailed views on an earlier post on his Facebook profile. "I have comprehensively denied that I propose a ban on sex education," it said.