U.N. Children’s Conference Final Document Does Not Refer to ‘Reproductive Health Services’ or Promote Abstinence-Only Education
The U.N. General Assembly Special Session on Children ended Friday night with a compromise and overall endorsement of the conference's final document after 30 hours of "bitter non-stop negotiations" over references in the draft declaration to access to abortion and abstinence-based sex education, the New York Times reports. The final document does not contain any reference to "reproductive health services," a phrase U.S. delegates -- with the support of the Vatican and several Islamic nations -- argued implied access to abortion. "The language is general enough [in the final document] so it doesn't suggest abortion is appropriate for children," a U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity said, adding, "We have a consensus document that meets U.S. concerns" (Sengupta, New York Times, 5/11). Negotiations "nearly unraveled" when delegates from industrialized nations outside of the European Union, including officials from Latin America, "stormed out" of the negotiating sessions after E.U. officials presented them with a compromise proposal that dropped the reference, saying that exclusion of the phrase represented a "retreat from previous U.N. commitments." The delegates later agreed "reluctantly" to accept the plan, in which the U.S. delegation agreed to drop its proposal to define a family as a union "based on marriage between a man and a woman" and instead accept "various forms of the family," as the end of the conference approached (Lynch, Washington Post, 5/11). The compromise also included the removal of "strong endorsements" of more comprehensive sex education programs, but it did not go so far as to endorse abstinence-based sex education as the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, as the U.S. delegation had proposed (Orme, Los Angeles Times, 5/11).
Making Everybody, And Nobody, Happy
The compromise was met by delegates with "relief mixed with disenchantment," the New York Times reports. "With respect to child rights and adolescent health and reproductive rights it is an extremely weak document," Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, said, adding, "It won't hurt anything. But we lost an opportunity here" (New York Times, 5/11). She noted that the compromise was "shoved down the throats of the rest of the world by the United States" (Lederer, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/12). Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, "Brushing aside previous agreements to improve health and education for young people, the administration is now using its position as a large donor nation to silence other countries already providing their young people with sexual and reproductive education and services" (PPFA release, 5/10). Gilbert Laurin, a member of the Canadian delegation, added that women should have "the right to make informed choices about one's own sexual and reproductive health" and noted that the document "falls significantly short" of this goal (Washington Post, 5/11). However, U.S. officials and their backers seemed pleased with the final outcome. "[A] document on children should not be focused on abortion and things like that," Michael Dennis, a human rights adviser to the State Department and a member of the U.S. delegation said, adding, "It should be focused on positive things" (Newsday, 5/12). Striking references to "reproductive health services" amounted to a "big pro-family victory," Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic and Family Human Rights Institute, said.
Controversy Continues Over Latin American Sex Education Manual
A controversial U.N.-financed sex education manual that critics say "promotes abortion, homosexuality and even sex with animals" is still in circulation in some Latin American counties, according to representatives from several nations, the Washington Times reports. The manual, which was produced by the Mexican Federal Department of Integral Development for Family in 1999 with some financial support from UNICEF, is still in use in Mexico, Leonora Valdes, an ex-official with the DIF, said. And a "very similar" book sponsored by the U.N. Population Fund is being used in Nicaragua, according to Elida Solorzano, an adviser to that country's minister of families. Solorzano added that she had been told by an official from Honduras that the book was also in use there and that USAID had funded distribution of the book in El Salvador. Copies of the manual were distributed at the conference by United Families International, a non-governmental group that was supporting the U.S. delegation's efforts to strike references to "reproductive health services" from the conference's final document. UNICEF acknowledged that it had provided some funding for the book, but said it withdrew the manual after closer inspection. "There weren't a huge number of copies. There may still be a few copies around. How do you find them all?" UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said, adding, "We do not support abortion, we do not recommend abortion, we do not fund abortion." However, UFI President Sharon Slater said that Bellamy's remarks are not true. "We have never been able to find concrete evidence until now that UNICEF, despite all the many wonderful things it does for children throughout the world, has another side through which it promotes abortion and sexual promiscuity by children, even perverted sex as well." She added that her group has had difficulty distributing materials and has been denied access to delegates working on the conference's final declaration because of its "stand on family issues" (Archibald, Washington Times, 5/11).