Parliamentary Activities

MPs’ visit to China

MPs report of China visit

In April 2002, three MPs, from the three main political parties (one of which was an APPG Member), went on a fact finding mission to China to ascertain whether, as alleged, UNFPA had been supporting coercive abortion policies in the country. To read an abridged version of their findings please read the article below, to read the fact finding report published by the MPs upon their return, please click here.

UN Population Fund Deserves Support and Funding

- Article prepared by Christine McCafferty MP

With so many scandals nowadays, it is hard to keep track. But there is one that has touched the United Nations Population Fund that deserves real public outcry. The UN agency is being wrongly accused by a small band of anti-abortion activists and Christian fundamentalists of supporting forced abortions and human rights abuses in China.

The trumped-up controversy delayed passage of the International Development Bill in the UK Parliament and caused US President George Bush to suspend $34 million in funding that was approved by Congress. Sadly, the victims of this political scandal are millions of women and babies in poor countries who are denied health services.

I know these dangerous allegations are false because I visited China with two other parliamentarians, conservative Edward Leigh and liberal democrat Norman Lamb, on a fact-finding mission in April. Our findings, which we released this week, conclude that UN Population Fund is actually helping to reduce the very practices that it is being accused of supporting.

We also found that the UN agency is playing a positive role, helping the Chinese Government move toward voluntary policies. As a condition for its presence, the UN Population Fund has persuaded the Chinese to drop the birth quotas and targets associated with the one-child policy in the 32 counties where it has programmes.

During our visit to two counties in Yunnan province, we found that UN Population Fund is helping to change attitudes and give women more control and choice over their own lives. The aim of their work is to empower women by ensuring that they have the fullest possible information about reproductive health. Given the success of the programme, the Chinese Government is now looking at rolling the same programme out at their own expense, to over 800 counties throughout the country.

Yet the critics of UN Population Fund, who comprise a vocal and politically connected minority, claim that the Fund should be denied government funding and eventually close down. The Washington Post reported on 29 June that "Bush aides recently directed State Department officials to devise a plan to eliminate this year's funding." This is despite the fact that US funds are prohibited from being used in China. It is also despite the fact that a U.S. State Department team sent to investigate the allegations has not yet released its findings, which are expected shortly.

Active in over 140 developing nations, the UN Population Fund is internationally recognized as a leader in the field of population and reproductive health. Their efforts for voluntary family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, safe motherhood and universal primary education are greatly needed.

Due in part, to their work over the past three decades, global population growth is slowing, because women and couples are choosing to have smaller families and have the knowledge and means to do so. Today 60 per cent of women in the developing world are using family planning compared to 10 per cent in the 1960s and birthrates have dropped by half. Yet despite their great contributions to women, families and the world, this small and effective UN agency is under attack.

The real scandal lies not in the charges of wrongdoing by the UN Population Fund, which are baseless; but rather in the ability of a few ideologues to gain the confidence and support of world leaders and thereby jeopardize the health and choices of millions of poor women, worldwide.

The Fund saves the lives of women and babies and actually reduces the incidence of abortion, by preventing unwanted pregnancy, through the provision of reproductive health information and services. It is a force for good, in a world that is in desperate need of more. As such, it deserves all the support and funding it can get. This is why our government is currently considering increasing its contribution to the UN Population Fund by 20% in 2002.

As we approach the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, it is widely acknowledged that it is impossible to have sustainable development, unless women are in charge of their own fertility.

President Bush must signal his understanding of this, by supporting the UN Population Fund and increasing the US contribution, rather than suspending it.

Chris McCafferty is the MP for Calder Valley and the former Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.

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