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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 22:39 GMT 23:39 UK


Action agreed on world population

More than 170 nations have reached agreement on a number of controversial measures to control the world's rapidly-expanding population.

World Population
"We can all be proud of what we have achieved," said Nafis Sadik, director of the UN Fund for Population.

"Every girl, every boy, every man and every woman must have their basic rights to education, to health and have options and choices."

Environment Correspondent Robert Piggot at the UN: Strong opposition to contoversial issues
With the world's population growing at around 2.5 people per second, delegates were told that action had to be taken.

"We have to stabilize the population of this planet," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the special assembly.

Religious objections

Despite bitter opposition from the Vatican and some Roman Catholic and Islamic states, the conference:

  • Called for women to have easier access to abortion
  • Agreed that teenagers above the age of 15 should be given the right to have confidential help with contraception
  • Stressed the need for sex education to include teaching on sexually responsible behaviour, and advice on sexually-transmitted diseases like Aids.

In spite of religious objections the majority of countries expressed a determination to lower the number of deaths caused by botched illegal abortions.

Health initiatives

[ image:  ]
It was agreed that abortions should not be used as a means of family planning.

The final document also called for the elimination of practices that discriminated against women.

Correspondents say the focus on sex education is likely to antagonise American anti-abortion and anti-contraception groups whose lobbying has led the US government to restrict funding for many UN health initiatives.

The two-day meeting in New York was called to urge member states to redouble efforts towards fulfilling the goals of the 1994 Cairo conference on population.

Changing attitudes

Barbara Klugman, a member of the South African delegation and manager of the country's Women's Health Project, noted a signifant shift in the outlook of delegates since the previous meeting.

[ image: The assembly was told that action had to be taken]
The assembly was told that action had to be taken
"There is a sense, for example, that dealing with sex education among young people is probably the most important thing to happen in the world at the moment given the Aids issue," she said.

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

So far the UN's population programs have received only half the amount of cash agreed upon in Cairo.

[ image: Developing countries are experiencing phenomenal population growth]
Developing countries are experiencing phenomenal population growth
Earlier in the day, the population conference appeared to be in deadlock, as opposition remained to the key issues of access to abortion and the right of adolescents to contraceptives.

After the document was completed, Argentina entered formal reservations to nearly every major issue - on family planning, on new contraceptive options, on abortion "in any form", and to the word "gender."

Nicaragua followed suit.

However Sudan and Libya, which had earlier voiced religious concerns about the document, in the end raised no objections.

Paying the bill

BBC Environment Correspondent Robert Pigott says that money will continue to be a vital part of making practical population control measures work.

He points out that the substantial sums promised in Cairo have not been delivered, and the fact that the richer countries have done worse than developing countries on payments added to the ill-tempered nature of some of the debate in New York.

Providing universal contraception, and perhaps more significantly the medical backup for it, will not be cheap.

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