Magazine article Insight on the News

U.N. Plans Ways to Limit Births: The United Nations Population Fund Supports Abortion and Sterilization Programs throughout the Third World and Is Seeking to Impose Birth-Control Methods as Human Rights. (Nation: Population Control)

Magazine article Insight on the News

U.N. Plans Ways to Limit Births: The United Nations Population Fund Supports Abortion and Sterilization Programs throughout the Third World and Is Seeking to Impose Birth-Control Methods as Human Rights. (Nation: Population Control)

Article excerpt

Maternal- and infant-mortality rates in the United States have decreased dramatically this century with the development of modern obstetrics and improvements in health care for women. Not so, however, in the developing world: Anemia, malaria, obstructed labor when giving birth, hemorrhage, postpartum infection and lack of trained medical professionals are the major causes of maternal mortality. Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization, or WHO, 15 children die every minute as a result of disease and malnutrition.

The United Nations long has been concerned about these issues and has tied them to population control and economic development. At the end of June, a special session of the U.N. General Assembly will meet in New York to review implementation of the action program of the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development. The U.N. Population Fund (previously known as the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, or UNFPA) is the sponsoring U.N. secretariat. The conference document recommended global policies on world population, development, migration, gender equality, empowerment of women, access to family planning and reproductive health care.

Surprisingly, 179 countries signed off on the original action program. Not surprisingly, five years later, not all are happy with the implementation.

Critics claim the likely report to the U.N. General Assembly concentrates on procreative rights and birth control for the poorer countries instead of economic development. Gary Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago who won the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on labor as capital, says, "I have not been sympathetic to the UNFPA and those who believe in antipopulation growth. Every country in the history of the world, without exception, has reduced its birth rate through education and economic growth."

There is concern that the United Nations is engaged in population-control polemics without regard to economic development. For instance, "The whole tenor of the negotiations appears to be long on population control and short on development," says Jeanne Head, chief U.N. lobbyist for the International Right to Life Foundation. "In the review document, the term `reproductive health' is listed 57 times, where `basic health' is in there only three times." According to UNFPA data, many women in developing countries have access to birth control but lack access even to clean water. In Haiti, 81 percent have access to contraception, whereas only 28 percent have access to safe water. In mountainous Nepal, 95 percent have access to contraception, but only 44 percent have clean water.

Pro-life groups say that the proposed language of the review document is too broad and that some countries will misinterpret "reproductive rights" or "health" to mean abortion or forced sterilization. Kathryn Balmforth, a civil-rights attorney and a member of NGO Family Voice, a pro-family organization based at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, warns: "There is an attempt to turn reproductive rights into human rights [as listed in the U.N. Charter on Human Rights, giving the U.N. authority over international intimacies]. There also is a persistent push to give autonomous rights for children," reducing the authority of parents.

Ingar Brueggeman, director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, or IPPF, in London says that reproductive rights indeed are human rights: "Even if some parents don't want the children to know about sexual rights, we should use any means we can to get information out. They should be spared the misery of having too many children." WHO defines adolescence as starting at age 10, at which time "adolescent reproductive rights" may kick in to establish the authority of the state over that of the parents.

In IPPF's sexual-rights charter, the "right to freedom of thought," requires that "all persons should have access to education and information related to their sexual and reproductive health free from all restrictions on grounds of thought, conscience and religion." Werner Fornos of the Population Institute agrees and acknowledges that groups have to "lean over backwards to make sure people are not coerced by religion." Fornos says the Vatican is "shameful" in making known its own convictions concerning population control.

The Cairo action program contains language acknowledging the difference in cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds of the various countries and says abortion should not be used as a method of birth control. However, delegates and nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, who for reasons of religion, personal conviction or their country's laws are unwilling to accept the official U.N. view of the need for restricting births by methods including abortion frequently have been targets of intimidation by Western delegations and by other NGOs.

At a 1994 UNFPA conference, Honduran delegate Martha Lorana Alvarado de Casco was asked by U.S. State Department official Timothy Wirth what her country was going to do to legalize abortion. Before the meeting concluded, he coyly reminded her about the amount of aid and assistance the United States gives Honduras.

A delegate who attended the preparatory committee meeting in New York during March asked Insight not to reveal his name. He says that when he expressed concern about proposed U.N. reproductive-rights policies he was harassed and intimidated by other delegates who took the U.N. line. "The delegates fear for their jobs," explains Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

Alex Marshall, a UNFPA spokesman, assured Insight in May that the United Nations has no ideology. Yet accreditation at the UNFPA's recent forum in The Hague was put into the hands of the World Population Federation, or WPF, an aggressive promoter of population control. Not coincidentally, only four of 720 accredited NGOs were pro-life. "We tried to get a balance," says Joke van Kampen of the Netherlands-based WPE "Other prolife groups applied but we felt that four groups was a reasonable balance to the others." Among the other groups were 80 chapters of Planned Parenthood.

At the preparatory committee meeting in New York, the host for the NGO forum was Population and Communications International, or PCI, a group that creates soap operas to air in developing countries to encourage population control, AIDS prevention and empowerment of women and girls. Says spokesman Tony Davis, "We hope that girls and women should not be thought of as baby-bearers. We create positive characters in soap operas who model more-progressive ideas and the negative characters maintain the more-traditional values." PCI receives funding from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, as well as from population-control advocates Ted Turner and Bill Gates. PCI also receives funding from the UNFPA.

Last year Congress cut off funding for the UNFPA because of complicity in China's coercive abortion programs in which women in their third trimester may be carried off in pig baskets for forced abortions. Most recently, the UNFPA caused a stir when it shipped abortifacient morning-after pills to Kosovo refugees, who mostly are Muslims and do not believe in birth control. A UNFPA official told Enza Ferrara, a physician at the hospital in Scutari, Albania, that the Kosovar refugees need emergency contraceptives "because they are too many. We have to stop them reproducing.... Don't you see they are refugees; they can't have children!"

UNFPA has maintained population-control programs in Peru for more than 20 years and helps fund the government's population-control programs. In April a U.N. investigating commission confirmed that these funds were used by the ministry of health in the forced sterilization of 243 women. The 1994 Cairo program of action on population and development, to which Peru is a signatory, explicitly forbids forced sterilization. There is a UNFPA sign on the door of the family-planning clinic in Marcavelica, Peru, at which investigators say sterilizations occurred. Diego Palacios, UNFPA's Lima-based administrator, assures Insight he is unfamiliar with the clinic, declares that the UNFPA sign on its door in Insight's photograph must be an old one -- and repeats again and again that, no matter what villagers say, no forced sterilizations took place. Maria Mulatillo is one woman who experienced coercion to be sterilized. Mulatillo says she had to remove her child from a nutrition program after she refused sterilization at a government clinic.

Curiously, the latest U.N. statistics show that the UNFPA's efforts to control population may be doing more harm than good. In Europe, population growth is below replacement. In the developing world, where infant- and maternal-mortality rates are higher, couples need to have on average 2.8 to 3 children to remain at zero population growth. Latin America and Asia also have fallen below replacement level. Only Africa has a growing population, but an AIDS epidemic there may be turning that statistic around as well. "With too few consumers and producers to drive the economy forward and too few workers to provide support through their tax dollars for the ballooning population of the elderly," says Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute, we soon may have international bureaucrats advocating "euthanasia of the elderly."

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