General Articles

International Human Rights Case Targets Teen STAR Program in Croatia

On October 10, 2007 the first international legal challenge to an abstinence-until-marriage program was filed with the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) against the state of Croatia.  The ECSR monitors whether or not states are in compliance with their human rights obligations under the European Social Charter, an international human rights treaty to which Croatia has long been a party. The complaint against Croatia focuses on its implementation of the extracurricular program Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility) over the past ten years.  The Croatian government is also considering implementing another program based on the Teen STAR model.  The complaint outlines the specific violations of the European Social Charter including Article 11, the right to protection of health; Article 16, the right of the family to social, legal, and economic protection; and Article 17 the rights of mothers and children to social and economic protection, along with a general violation of the right to non-discrimination.

The challenge was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (based in New York), Interights (based in London), and the Centre for Education and Counseling of Women (based in Zagreb, Croatia).  The organizations filing the complaint argue that, “Croatia is endangering the lives of its young people through misleading and inadequate sex education and is therefore in breach of its obligations under a major international human rights treaty, the European Social Charter.”1

Sister Hanna Klaus, M.D., of the Natural Family Planning Center in Bethesda, Maryland, developed the Teen STAR program in the 1980s as a means of preventing teen pregnancy.2   While Teen STAR identifies itself as a program to teach natural family planning, the message that it clearly promotes is one of abstinence-until-marriage. The intended goal of the program is to “undergird virginity and/or facilitate a return to chastity.”3  The program does not educate youth on the broad spectrum of issues that a more comprehensive sexuality education program would address. Moreover, the program addresses sexuality and gender identities from a strong ideological position grounded in Catholic teachings on sexuality and gendered roles within a marriage, instead of a more secular, objective, and evidence-based approach. 

According to press releases issued by Interights, the Teen STAR curriculum “emphasizes abstinence-only approaches; discourages the use of contraceptives, including condoms; disparages any relationship outside of the traditional family model…and reinforces gender stereotypes, including the notion that stay-at-home mothers make for better families.”4  Sex and procreation are inherently interdependent, according to the teachings of this program, and contraceptives “disturb the essence and nature of the sexual act.”5

The Center for Reproductive Rights indicates that this complaint differs from the many challenges to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the United States because it argues a violation of human rights, rather than an imposition of a religious ideology. “We are using the power of the law to hold the Croatian government accountable for living up to its agreement to provide young people with accurate and comprehensive sex-education. Those of us who care about the human rights of teenagers won’t sit idly by while a government fails to do its part in stemming public health crises, such as teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV and AIDS,” said Christina Zampas, legal adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights.6  As of the date this update was written, the declaration of admissibility by the European Committee of Social Rights was still pending.


  1. Center for Reproductive Rights, “U.S.- based Sex-Ed Program Comes Under Fire in International Human Rights Case,” Press Release published 10 October 2007.
  2. Hanna Klaus, “The Teen STAR Program,” April 1996.
  3. Hanna Klaus, N. Dennehy and J. Turnbull “Undergirding Abstinence Within a Sexuality Education Program”  21 October 2001, accessed 22 October 2007, <>
  4. Interights, “Croatia’s Flawed Sex Ed Programme Comes Under Fire in International Human Rights Case,” Press Release published 10 October 2007.
  5. Klaus, “Undergirding.”
  6. Center for Reproductive Rights, “U.S.-based Sex-Ed Program.”