ZAGREB - Freshly introduced sexual education classes in Croatia's schools has split the EU-bound country as the powerful Catholic Church challenges the centre-left government over its newest addition to the curriculum.
Aimed at raising awareness on potential sexual issues and problems, the pilot "sex-ed" programme started last year and will continue to June 2014. Content is adjusted to the age of the pupils, who range from nine to 18 years old.
Introduced as a part of a wider obligatory health education programme in state primary and high schools, sex-ed covers topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, masturbation or gender equality, and aims to help avoid unwanted teenage pregnancy.
Vinko Filipovic, head of the government agency tasked with preparing the curriculum, told AFP that 2,000 teenage pregnancies were registered every year in Croatia.
Out of some 5,000 abortions every year, 400 are among adolescents, he warned.
"These alarming data showed a need to work on education of children as they mature sexually," Filipovic said.
No special textbooks are used for the programme, with topics discussed instead during class with mentor teachers or experts. Pupils receive just three hours of sex education every school year on average.
Despite such low-level school presence, the move has sparked the fury of bishops who, backed by pro-Church citizen groups, claimed that sex-ed would promote "pornography, promiscuity and homosexuality".