Brazil’s far-right president has falsely accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of encouraging young children to masturbate, in an apparent attempt to justify ignoring its advice about the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Facebook post, which was soon deleted but seen by Brazilian news outlets, Jair Bolsonaro said, without providing evidence, the WHO was encouraging same-sex relationships in four-year-olds, sexual experiences for nine-year-olds, and masturbation in children from birth.
“This is the World Health Organization that many say I must follow in the case of coronavirus,” Mr Bolsonaro wrote in Portuguese.
The post came a day after he shrugged off concerns about Brazil’s rising confirmed death toll – it neared 6,000 by Friday – by telling a reporter: “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”
Though Mr Bolsonaro’s post provided no source for his claims, it appeared to have been inspired by a 2010 guide, published by the WHO’s European office, which provided a framework for teaching sex education in schools.
The authors describe the importance of children developing a “responsible attitude” towards sexual health, and outline how they learn about their bodies and develop a curiosity about sexuality.
At no point, however, do they encourage masturbation, homosexuality or sexual experiences for children.
Pressure has increased on the authorities in recent weeks, as Brazil increasingly emerges as Latin America’s coronavirus epicentre.
Amid the pandemic, and lockdowns across much of the giant country, Mr Bolsonaro has repeatedly egged on Brazilians who are calling for revolt and has scoffed at both the virus and stay-at-home policies.
Mr Bolsonaro first staked out his argument that the economy needs to get back to work in a national address at the end of March, when he referred to the coronavirus as “a little flu” and said his history as an athlete would protect him.
Since then, he has doubled down time and again, saying only high-risk Brazilians need to be isolated, even as the official count of cases rockets past 85,000.
Experts disagree and consider Brazil’s figures to be significant undercounts due to a lack of widespread testing.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies