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International Thursday, 11 February, 1999, 18:54 GMT
Rich nations put children at risk
Children may be at risk because of failure to meet family planning pledges
Over four million young children could die as a result of rich countries' failure to live up to pledges to help reduce the world's population, a UN conference has been told.

Some 3.6 million babies and 1.3 million young children could die because of failure to invest in healthcare measures which promote family planning, say UN officials at a population conference in the Hague.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the World Health Organisation, said most rich countries had failed to keep a 1994 promise to fund methods for curbing population growth.

The USA is at the top of the league of non-payers.

It should have contributed $1.95bn in 1996, but came up with less than half that sum.

The missing billions

At the previous UN conference in Cairo in 1994, 179 countries promised to contribute $17bn a year until 2000 for family planning, health initiatives and other measures to reduce the world's population.

For the 15 years after that, they agreed to increase the annual sum to $21bn.

Two-thirds of the money would come from developing countries.

So far 80% of the $10bn a year contributed has come from the world's poorest nations.

UN officials say economic problems may have diverted attention from family planning issues.

Ms Brundtland called for renewed efforts to overcome "donor fatigue".

UN officials predict there will be an extra 130 million unwanted pregnancies, 50 million abortions and 300,000 maternal deaths as a result of the shortfall.

Hillary Clinton told the conference on Tuesday that the US government had proposed sending $25m to the UN Population Fund in the year 2000.

But it is likely Republicans will reduce the sum because of their opposition to any measures which are seen as promoting abortion.

Ms Brundtland suggested that private donors may have to be approached to bring in more funds.

Sex education

The conference, which lasts until Friday, also heard a call from Scandinavian countries for more sex education.

"The Nordic countries have had sex education for the last 40 years and we have seen the results - few teenage pregnancies, low figures on sexually transmitted diseases and no shame and guilt linked to sexuality," said Katarina Lindahl, director of the Swedish Association for Sex Education.

Official figures for Denmark show that teen abortions have fallen from 25 per 1,000 in 1975 to 15 per 1,000 in 1995.

The UK has the highest teen pregnancy levels in Europe.

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