U.N. Population Control Agenda in the Shadow of Chen Controversy

In recent days, the international spotlight on Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese lawyer and human rights activist who has spent his life trying to expose and stop forced abortions and sterilizations in China, has refocused attention on coercive population control programs. Meanwhile, the 45th Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) met at the U.N. last week to discuss the priority theme of adolescents and youth.

The CPD meeting, typically a favorite of population-control activists and radical feminists, was no different this year. In UN parlance, “sustainable development” is often code for population control, and its advocates insist that poverty and its related ills are the result of overpopulation. The prescriptions they advance are centered on so-called family planning efforts, including sterilization and the liberalization of abortion laws, irrespective of cultural or religious opposition.

At the CPD meeting, discussions on education, economic freedom, and employment opportunities—the kinds of solutions many would consider practical and effective in promoting development—were sidelined or neglected completely. Setting the tone, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed in his opening speech the need for reproductive health care for young people. The statement submitted by Ipas, a non-governmental organization with U.N. accreditation, explicitly called for greater sexual and reproductive rights for children.

Calls for “comprehensive sexuality education” were numerous. In its written statement submitted to the CPD, the International Planned Parenthood Federation called on all U.N. member states to “ensure that a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion services, is available for all young people,” an age group it defines as those ages 10 to 19 years old.

At the conclusion of the week-long meeting, the commission adopted the chairman’s text of the outcome document, something of a consensus document reflecting the negotiations over specific language. While this outcome document contained plenty of objectionable language, pro-family delegations succeeded in limiting the opposition’s efforts to include language about “sexual rights” and “global access to safe abortion.”

The effort to link “population control” with “reproduction” is nothing new—in fact, earlier this year, the annual U.N. Population Award was awarded to American “Reproductive Health Pioneer” Adrienne Germain, whom the United Nations Population Fund credits as the first scholar to develop the notion of “reproductive health” and linking fertility and population policies with the status of women. But there has been a renewed effort on the part of reproductive rights advocates to insert themselves into the international development agenda by cultivating alliances with the climate change crowd.

These efforts are reaching a fever pitch as the U.N. system continues its preparations for the upcoming “Rio+20” meeting in June, which has the joint themes of creating “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and discussing “the institutional framework for sustainable development.”

The conference is expected to produce an outcome document containing a set of Sustainable Development Goals. It would be no surprise to see the language of population control permeate the discussions and resulting documents.

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