UN 'promotes reproductive health in China'

Posted: 20 November 2003

A report, based on first-hand observations by US religious leaders, says that a UN agency is playing a critical role in promoting voluntary, high quality reproductive health care in China. The report is significant in view of US policy to withold funding for the agency's work in China.

Nine religious leaders and ethicists, representing Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant faiths, report that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) promotes voluntary, high quality reproductive health care in China.

Their report, The United Nations Population Fund in China: A Catalyst for Change, was delivered to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell this week. It refutes claims made by right wing religious groups that UNFPA supports coercion in Chinese family planning.

Six counties

President Bush is expected to decide shortly on whether or not to restore US funding for UNFPA. In doing so, the interfaith group urges him to consider evidence they gathered during a week-long trip to China in September 2003, visiting six counties and interviewing national and local family planning officials, as well as Chinese women and men in towns and villages.

"On the basis of our meetings with Chinese family planning officials and ordinary citizens, we can say with confidence that all of the programmeswith which UNFPA is currently working are committed to avoiding any practice of forced abortions or involuntary sterilisations," said Ronald Green, Chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College, and a member of the interfaith delegation.

As Congress completes the US Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which includes funds for UNFPA, and sends it to President Bush for signature, the Kemp-Kasten provision of the bill requires the President to decide if UNFPA receives that funding, based on whether or not UNFPA participates in any coercive practices in China.

Key findings

"Will President Bush turn a deaf ear to the voices of leaders of religious and faith-based organisations who are not right wing?" asks Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice and a member of the delegation. "Or will he be fair and take our first-hand experiences in China into consideration?"

Other members of the interfaith delegation include: Dr Nazir Khaja, President, Islamic Information Services; Nancy Kipnis, Vice-President of the National Council of Jewish Women; Rev. James Martin-Schramm, Chair of Board, Division for Church in Society, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Meg Riley, Director, Advocacy and Witness Program, Unitarian Universalist Association; Maureen Shea, Director of Government Relations, Episcopal Church USA; Rev. Paul Sherry, former President, United Church of Christ; and Rev. Carlton Veazey, President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Among the findings of the delegation, including quotes from Chinese inteviewees, are the following:

  • The Chinese government is taking active steps to end the use of coercion in its family planning activities nationwide.

  • UNFPA has been and remains a major force and vital catalyst in achieving China's transition to a fully voluntary and non-coercive family planning programme.

  • Ma Xiufen, Director of Ningxia Family Planning Commission, in Yinchuan City stated, "If UNFPA were not here, progress would be slower and more painful. UNFPA makes it possible to do it faster, less painfully, cheaper and better.it's a window on the world and a catalyst for transformation. UNFPA is speeding the change process."

  • Abortion and sterilization rates are declining as contraceptive choice increases.

  • Lijiamo village resident, Yuzhong County, Gansu province: "The family planning situation is much better now that quotas are gone and we can choose when to have a child and what contraception to use."

  • Contrary to the Bush administration analysis, UNFPA neither "supports" nor "participates" in managing China's family planning programme, including the social compensation fee.

  • A family planning official, Quianjiang Municipal Family Planning Commission, Xiong Kou township, Hubei: "When the project started,out-of-plan births became fewer because of our client-oriented friendly service, and so we could be more flexible with the fee. All children aretreated the same and out-of-plan children are registered for all services." This is in contrast to previous policy that barred some services to out-of-plan children.

  • The language critics use to describe the social compensation fee is factually and ethically wrong. The fee, however, remains a negative element in the Chinese family planning programme.

  • The desire for small families is becoming the norm in China, chiefly for economic reasons.
Recommendations

The delegation recommended that:

  • US policy toward China's family planning programme should become one of constructive engagement.

  • Monitoring of the Chinese family planning programme should continue.

  • US funding for UNFPA should be restored and if possible increased.

  • The Kemp-Kasten Amendment should be revised.

  • UNFPA and the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) should bring their case more directly to the US public.

  • UNFPA and NPFPC should reach out to members of Chinese religious communities.

  • US religious congregations, faith-based organisations and denominations should promote the work of UN agencies and other international organizations whose programmes are consistent with their core values, and should defend those groups from spurious attacks.

      See the full report at Catholics for a Free ChoiceSee also: