An earlier introduction of sex education in Cyprus’ schools “would have saved many children” from abuse, Volt MP Alexandra Attalides said on Monday.

Speaking at a House human rights committee meeting, she said research into the matter had identified the need for sex education to be taught to children in Cyprus as early as 1976.

In this regard, she pointed out that studies carried out across Europe show that sex education “protects children from abusers”.

She said that over 400 complaints are filed to the Children’s House regarding sexual abuse of minors every year and that data from Europe suggests that only a third of incidences of sexual abuse are reported, she estimates that over 1,000 children in Cyprus are victims of sexual abuse every year.

However, the introduction of sex education into Cyprus’ schools was delayed for almost five decades. For this, Attalides blamed what she described as “the state allowing speakers to misinform and terrorise society on an issue which has been resolved abroad.”

The teaching of sex education classes in Cypriot public schools was only approved by cabinet in January last year.

Attalides said the matter of sex education had been subjected to “an orgy of misinformation and targeting” and called on Education Minister Athena Michaelidou to “come forward” and defend the practice.

Michaelidou said she was “satisfied” with the teaching of sex education in schools and also said the number of cases reaching the police and the Children’s House “mean that children are breaking their silence”.

She also said she had personally borne witness to a child coming forward to report that they had been the victim of sexual abuse while she was in a kindergarten.

She added that sex education at present “aims to protect children from sexual abuse, to help them break their silence, to help them maintain sexual hygiene and protect themselves.”

The incidents of children reporting sexual abuse, she said, “are ringing alarm bells, but showing that our protocols and procedures are working.”

In addition, she said, there is no chance whatsoever of children being allowed to be excluded from sex education classes, despite some parents wishing for their children to not be present.

Other MPs present at the meeting were largely satisfied with the government’s direction of travel on the matter of sex education, though committee chairwoman and Akel MP Irene Charalambidou was keen to condemn “actors inside and outside of parliament” who had disseminated disinformation on the matter.

Disy MP Fotini Tsiridou said the government is “heading in the right direction” on the matter, while fellow Disy MP Rita Superman congratulated Michaelidou for her work, with Diko MP Christos Senekis and Green MP Charalambos Theopemptou also expressed his satisfaction.