UN child summit snagged by US opposition to abortion

The rights of children, such as this two-year old from India were at the centre of talks in New York this week

The Swiss delegation to a United Nations session on children has expressed frustration over US opposition to abortion.

This content was published on May 12, 2002 minutes

Giving children around the world access to reproductive health became one of the sticking points at the three-day conference on the rights of children.

After hours of late-night negotiation, delegates fell short of building a consensus on how to educate children, particularly those in developing countries, about the avoidance of AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.

The US refused to back the wording of a final conference document on the issue, calling instead for the promotion of abstinence as a solution.

Jean-François Giovannini, the head of Switzerland's delegation to the conference, told swissinfo on Friday that the conference had been a success, other than for US demands to have all references to abortion deleted.

"Of course abstinence is the choice of the's his or her problem. But it's not up to us to decide whether they want to have a sexual relationship or not, " he told swissinfo.

"We have to provide them with facilities so they can be informed and make their own choices about how they want to have their sexual life."

Giovannini said the reality was that young people around the world had sex. "We have to give them the means to protect themselves [whether] against HIV Aids and unwanted pregnancies."

US alongside The Sudan

Giovanni said the US's position was in contrast to the Clinton administration's view on the issue.

"Suddenly there is a difference of view now, between the US on one side, and most other countries on the other side.

"But...they are not totally isolated. I think they still have a few friends who follow the same line, like Sudan for instance.

Giovannin said Switzerland's own performance in protecting the rights of children also needed to improve.

"We have exploitation of children in that Swiss tourists go to developing countries to exploit children physically, and this is something that has increased over the last five years.

"You have the internet pedophilia, even the sale of organs, and many new forms of exploitation.

"I think the police and legal system have to adapt themselves to this new situation."

Ten years of child's rights

The conference, brought together over 65 world leaders and delegates from 180 countries, who spent three days setting new global goals to improve the lives of children.

The meeting also marks ten years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed.

Spawned at the 1990 UN Summit for Children, the convention was backed by 71 countries that agreed to pursue 27 specific goals.

Those goals included halting state-perpetrated violence against children, eradication of child poverty and sexual exploitation, and an end to child labour.

Some 150 million children malnourished

This week's meeting - originally scheduled for September 2001, but postponed following the terror attacks on the United States - is the first opportunity for the world community to review those goals.

Of the 27 targets set out 1990, the UN says six have been reached, 12 have made "some progress", three have made "no progress at all" and six remain inconclusive.

In a report released in April, the UN said successes include the global eradication of polio, a halving of diarrhoea-caused fatalities and the "virtual elimination" of iodine deficiency disorders.

More children are in school than ever before and three million fewer child deaths are recorded every year than when the conference was first held.

By contrast, the UN says the world has made no progress on the goal of halving maternal mortalities, and at least 150 million children remain malnourished.

There are still ten million fatalities every year from preventable causes, every 20th child is not in school and some 300,000 are fighting in wars.

The report argues that if governments are to become "truly serious" about reducing poverty, they must make children their first priority.

By Jacob Greber

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