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Success (and Failure) with Family Planning in Brazil

Nature Publishing Group | 06-22-2012

More than a dozen or so adolescents arrived at the Cachoeirinha community centre for a sex-education class this week. They may have been outnumbered by adult visitors in town for Rio+20, many from far-away lands, with cameras, recorders, pens and notebooks, but the kids weren’t intimidated. Guided by a local educator, they talked freely about relationships and the usual suite of social pressures and youth anxieties, tinted by the realities of growing up in a favela apparently controlled by drug traffickers. Across their free programme T-shirts read the words, “How cool to know! Everybody has equal rights”.

As a result of a curious combination of factors, Brazil’s birth rate has declined from 6.5 children per woman to 1.9 since 1960, a feat that brought the nation in line with industrialized countries over the course of just two generations. But the sex-education programme focuses on youth precisely because this is where Brazil has not performed as well, says Carmen Barroso, a Brazilian who serves as regional director for the Americas at the International Planned Parenthood Federation in New York. Although women now tend to have fewer children, too often they start troublingly early. In their discussion, the adolescents universally said they had not had any sex education in schools, and many said they hadn’t even talked about these issues with their parents. Bemfam, a family-planning organization, is trying to fill that gap.

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