Parents padlock Costa Rica schools to protest sex education
Protests against school sex education by some Costa Rican parents take place against the backdrop of heightened social conservatism energized by the rise of presidential candidate Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical preacher vehemently opposed to gay marriage AFP / Ezequiel BECERRA

Parents padlocked shut gates of some schools in Costa Rica on Thursday to protest sex education classes for teens that some believe promotes homosexuality, the education ministry said.

The actions took place in at least four schools in the north of the small Central American country, on the first day of the new school year, the ministry said.

Other parents elsewhere in the country loudly protested the sex education guide to local media and in social media posts.

The protests were happening against the backdrop of heightened religious and social conservatism in the country energized by presidential elections which have propelled into first place an evangelical preacher who vehemently opposes gay marriage.

The preacher, Fabricio Alvarado, is the candidate of the National Restoration Party, a right-wing Christian party.

He emerged as the frontrunner after the first round of elections last weekend. On April 1 he faces a runoff against the ruling party candidate, Carlos Alvarado (no relation).

- 'False information' -

A video circulating online featured an unidentified man explaining his opposition to the sex education program at the Puerto Escondido school in Pital, in the northern district of San Carlos, where he said his child was enrolled.

"We are not going to allow this sexual guide to be implanted in our children," he said. "We are putting on chains and padlocks to say no to this program."

Some parents interviewed by Costa Rican media said they believed the sex-education guide promotes homosexuality, something the government denied.

Education Minister Sonia Marta Mora asked parents who had doubts about the program -- which has been in place since 2012 for students in their penultimate year of high school, usually aged around 16 -- to contact the schools to get information about its content.

Last year Mora sent a memorandum to high schools telling them sex education was not compulsory, and that parents could exempt their children from the class.

"It's very serious that they are claiming that the program promotes homosexuality. It is unacceptable that such false information is circulating," Mora said.

Her predecessor, Leonardo Garnier, also criticized the bigotry that he said has surrounded the sex education initiative.

"We have now entered a new phase of intolerance. Now schools are being closed to oppose education about sex and intimacy. This is an attack on the right of all to education," he wrote on his social media accounts.