UN Commission adopts declaration, delays controversy

APRIL 5th, 2019, NEW YORK—The 52nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD52) concluded today at United Nations Headquarters. This year the commission the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), on its 25th anniversary, and adopted a brief political declaration on the first day of the session.

The political declaration (available here) is only a page long and mainly recalls the original document and encourages further actions to achieve the plan it laid out for development. Perhaps chastened by the failure to agree to a resolution in three of the previous four years, delegations adopted the original draft without changes.

World Youth Alliance welcomes the Commission’s recognition that controversial policies not reflect the ICPD consensus or the positions of many Member States. However, WYA regrets the positive reference to “outcomes of reviews” and it noting regional review conferences. Review conferences, both at the United Nations and within regions, often go beyond the consensus to promote divisive policies such as abortion and comprehensive sexuality education. The ICPD Programme of Action stated that abortion policy can only be decided at the national level, and generally cast it as undesirable (learn more about that by reading WYA’s white paper on Reproductive Health).

As in previous years, the weeklong conference was heavily tilted towards reproductive health policies. Many countries touted their efforts to reduce fertility as a way to achieve development, despite the lack of evidence that reducing fertility causes development (see WYA’s Sustainable Development white paper). This included a myopic focus on promoting contraceptives, despite their wide availability and regardless of why women might not want to use them, as a way to address the “unmet need for family planning.”

Several developed countries expressed their commitment to promote reproductive rights in developing countries, many of which have restrictive abortion laws. This raises questions of whether development aid is being offered in line with the ICPD consensus—or if it is being used to influence national policies in violation of the original agreement. World Youth Alliance addressed these issues in our statement to the Commission, given on April 4th.

Although CPD managed to come to a limited agreement in New York, more remains to be seen regarding the 25th anniversary of ICPD. A meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in November, away from the UN Headquarters spotlight, is already raising concerns about what sort of outcome may be planned. WYA will continue to work with member states and monitor developments to ensure that the ICPD consensus is respected.