Bush Administration Weakens UN Child Conference Final Document

After months of lobbying, the Bush Administration was victorious in having the phrase “reproductive health services” cut from the declaration produced by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children last week. Allying itself with the Vatican and several Islamic countries, the Bush Administration said the phrase was an endorsement of abortion. The final document does not explicitly decry abortion, but the US and its cohorts contributed to intense negotiations centered on the importance of reproductive rights for adolescents. Delegates from Latin America and industrialized nations outside of the European Union walked out of talks in protest of excluding the reproductive health language, but these nations later accepted the document Ð though unenthusiastically Ð after the Bush Administration’s proposal to change the definition of “family” was dropped. The Bush Administration sought to define family narrowly, saying that it was “based on marriage between a man and a woman.” Delegates rejected the proposal for a more broad definition that includes “various forms of the family.” The US delegation did, however, get its proposal to expunge “strong endorsements” of comprehensive sex education approved. The document stops short of specifically promoting abstinence only sex education.

The general nature of the declaration frustrated many advocates. “With respect to child rights and adolescent health and reproductive rights it is an extremely weak document,” said International Women’s Health Coalition President Adrienne Germain. “It won’t hurt anything. But we lost an opportunity here.”

The Bush Administration also prevented efforts to make the Convention on the Rights of the Child the focal point of the declaration’s goals. The US opposes the convention and has refused to ratify it, as it would ban capital punishment for minors under 18 Ð lawful in almost half of American states, according to the New York Times Ð and would give children more control over their healthcare. Opponents in Congress have argued that children could elect to have healthcare procedures performed without parental consent.


: New York Times, 5/11/02; Kaisernetwork.org, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Reports, 5/13/02

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