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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK


Deadline looms over population conference

Delegates remain in deadlock as the countdown begins

The UN Population Conference remains in deadlock over two key issues as time runs out to reach agreement.

World Population
Access to abortion and the right of adolescents to contraceptives are proving to be the two great stumbling blocks dividing the conference in New York.

Most countries want adolescents to have access to contraceptive services without relying on their parents' permission, but some religious leaders and a few conservative states say such a measure could undermine families.

There are also angry divisions over attempts to allow easier access to abortions.

The BBC's Environment Correspondent Robert Pigott says that, while speeches are made in the main meeting, delegates are conducting increasingly urgent discussions outside to try to resolve their differences before the conference ends later on Friday.

The central issue is whether adolescents have rights independently of their parents to sex education and help with contraception.

Adolescent angst

There are a billion people at the most sexually active age of 15 to 24, most of them in poorer nations, the conference heard.

Most countries argue that sex education has reduced unwanted pregnancies and deaths during pregnancy, and has helped prevent the transmission of Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

[ image: Gro Harlem Bruntland pleaded for
Gro Harlem Bruntland pleaded for "shared responsibility"
Former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland - now director-general of the World Health Organization - said there were 333 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases every year - and one in 20 adolescents was infected.

She said that over half the 5.2 million people who were infected annually with the HIV virus that causes Aids are under the age of 24.

"Giving young people information does not encourage promiscuity, rather it fosters mutual respect and shared responsibility," she said.

Gro Harlem Bruntland was instrumental in breaking the deadlock over a 20-year action plan during the 1994 Cairo population conference, with an impassioned speech calling for reproductive rights and health programmes for women and adolescents.

The Vatican and Islamic states like Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan regard sex education as the duty of parents and easier contraception as encouraging promiscuity.

On Thursday, the Vatican took issue with a proposal from Brazil, calling on governments to change laws that punish women for having illegal abortions.

The Brazilians also advocated public health systems to train and equip abortion providers properly.

Unholy alliance

Clare Short, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, accused an "unholy alliance" of seeking to stall the 1994 agreement on keeping global population down.

"If (the Vatican) had its way, a million people could get HIV, there would be more and more unwanted pregnancies, more and more illegal abortions, more and more mothers dying as a result of illegal abortions," she told the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The UN General Assembly session on population is an attempt to upgrade the Cairo agreement.

Since 1960, the world's population has doubled to six billion - and there are fears that it could increase to 10 billion by 2050.

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