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Coming home from school with strawberry condoms

Mandatory sex education classes for 14-year-olds anger Muslim immigrants in Sweden.

Sweden's proposal to make sex education classes, which include teaching students about safe sex, mandatory has angered Muslim immigrants. Free condoms, Sydney, July 25, 2007. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

STOCKHOLM — Proper condom use, sex positions and same-sex relationships are all part of the curriculum for 14-year-old students in Swedish high schools.

But many Muslim immigrants, who require their daughters and wives to wear head scarves to ensure modesty, have prevented their children from attending the classes.

A new law proposes to change that by abolishing a provision that was initially created for Catholic and Jewish students looking to get out of religious education classes. All students were allowed to opt out of subjects if they wanted.

Without that provision, Muslim parents would no longer be able to stop their teenage children from participating in the mandatory sex education, or in sports lessons.

"All students have the right to take part in the compulsory school education, regardless of whether their parents approve or disapprove," said Sweden's education secretary, Jan Bjorklund.

Muslim parents who grew up in conservative Middle East countries have reacted with shock when their daughters and sons come home from school with condoms handed out by their biology teachers.

Teenage girls said their parents prohibit them from participating in school lessons because they contradict the family's religion or culture, according to a new survey from Stockholm University. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants’ daughters are kept from participating in some school subjects.

“My parents do not think that the school should run any sex education at all. They say it is not the school’s business. But I think it is exciting. I do not show the condoms for Mum or Dad,” said Fatima Omed, 14. Her parents moved to Sweden from Turkey, but she has lived in Sweden her entire life. “I do not plan to use the condoms anytime soon,” she added, laughing.

The number of students prevented by their parents from attending sex education classes increased during the Iraq war, when many Muslim families immigrated to Sweden. The Scandinavian country, with 10 million inhabitants, granted full refugee status to 24,799 Iraqis between 2003 and 2007, compared with 260 by Britain. Sweden's right-wing government said the increase in students opting out called for action.

Muslim parents who were born in Sweden have not used the exemption nearly as much as parents who are immigrants. Families where both the parents and children are immigrants have expressed the most anger.

“It is a problem and usually it is the father who is protesting the most, especially when it regards a daughter,” said Magnus Ericsson, a teacher at one of Stockholm’s largest high schools.