By Marcin Goclowski
WARSAW (Reuters) – Lawmakers from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) have begun work on a bill to criminalise “the promotion of underage sexual activity”, in a move which aims to boost their credentials with staunchly Catholic voters but which has angered liberals and women’s rights activists.
Polish schools do not currently offer formal sex education, instead teaching students how to “prepare for family life”. Some cities run by more liberal parties have allowed sexual education programmes in schools, prompting a backlash from the PiS and the Catholic Church.
Protests against the new bill, which some activists fear may mean sex educators would risk up to five years behind bars, are planned in several cities on Wednesday.
The PiS won parliamentary elections in Poland last Sunday, but far-right and staunchly catholic voters also managed to introduce candidates to parliament.
Some political analysts think the PiS, which lost seats in the upper house and won the same number of seats in the lower house as in 2015, wants to show such voters it is the best party to represent them, which may result in the party turning further to the right and to the Church.
“This is their gesture towards ultra-Catholics and the Church. They don’t understand what sex education is and why it is important,” lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus from the opposition Now! party said.
Critics accused the PiS of fomenting homophobia during the election campaign, with party officials calling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights an invasive foreign influence that threatens Poland’s national identity.
“They are trying to impose a narrative that we are in a culture and civilization war,” Scheuring-Wielgus said, adding the bill is aimed at intimidating and silencing educators and activists.
But newly-elected PiS lawmaker Marcin Ociepa said fears that educators may end up behind bars are just an “overinterpretation of the bill” and that he saw nothing bad with the legislation which is to be debated on Wednesday afternoon.
“This only says that it is not allowed to encourage a person younger than 15 … to have sex or to conduct other sexual activities,” Ociepa told private radio TOK FM.
Bishop Ignacy Dec of the Swidnica diocese told right-wing newspaper Nasz Dziennik, “it is worrying that some local authorities are introducing to pre-schools and schools sexualisation programmes recommended by the World Health Organization, which just harm children and youths”.
Women’s rights activists will protest on Wednesday in several cities, under the “No to forbidding sex education” banner, according to Twitter posts.
Large protests stopped the PiS in previous years from tightening Poland’s abortion law which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.
The fresh social clash underlines the difficulties the PiS faces in pushing through its policies as new politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are expected to mount robust challenges.
Poland, European Union’s biggest post-communist member, is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, but its society is becoming more liberal, and the number of people attending Sunday mass is falling constantly, which may threaten the PiS’s conservative agenda.
(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)