Evangelicals coach China in abstinence-only education

Liz Goodwin

Talk about strange bedfellows: Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a conservative evangelical leader, partnered with the atheist Chinese government to help implement abstinence-only programs in the country.

William Wan at the Washington Post explains how the strange collaboration happened:

It is also the result of a narrow confluence of interests: Evangelical Christian groups want an entree into China. And Chinese authorities, despite the country's official atheism, want help with controlling population growth and managing the society's rapidly shifting values.

American critics have challenged abstinence-only programs as ineffective, frequently citing a study commissioned by Congress that found they did not actually reduce teen sex, even after the federal government had devoted more than a billion dollars in funding to them.

Some states that consistently took federal funds for abstinence-only programs are now for the first time applying for money to teach comprehensive sex-ed, we reported last month.

But Focus on the Family has had great success exporting abstinence-only to Muslim nations like Malaysia and Egypt, even as its programs were losing popularity at home.

In China, premarital sex has jumped from "15 percent in 1989 to more than 50 percent," a reflection of the later age at which Chinese women now marry, Wann reports. That spike is what led Chinese officials in 2006 to seek out Dobson, who is no longer part of Focus on the Family, for advice.

As part of the deal, Focus on the Family is not allowed to use religion or politics in the group's programming in China. Girls are taught to say things like "I'm not like everyone else," to their boyfriends in order to save sex for marriage.

(Photo: Schoolchildren in Beijing/AP)