Population Matters

Children by Choice, Not by Chance

November 15th, 2012

In releasing its 2012 State of World Population report yesterday the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) made a plain and succinct case for family planning:  having children by choice, not by chance, leads to healthier families and communities.  But as common sense as that may seem to most of us, too many women in the world still have children by chance, not by choice.   As Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, said yesterday, “Family planning is not a privilege, but a right. Yet, too many women—and men—are denied this human right.”

Currently there are 222 million women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy in the next two years, but who are not using a modern contraceptive method. Meeting their need for contraceptives would cost little—an additional $4.1 billion a year—but the impact would be enormous:   54 million fewer unintended pregnancies, resulting in 26 million fewer abortions, 16 million of which would be unsafe.  And that, in turn, would make a world of difference. As Dr. Osotimehin put it yesterday:

“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development. Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labour-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

The report notes, however, that access to contraceptives is just one of many barriers that women face when they seek to space or limit their pregnancies.  Poverty and gender inequality are among the biggest barriers. In order to ensure everyone is able to access to family planning UNFPA recommends a multi-pronged approach that would: strengthen health systems, introduce or enforce law that protect individuals’ rights, reduce poverty, challenge harmful traditional practices, eliminate child marriage, end discrimination, remove logistical impediments, and ensure a broad range of supplies.

In addressing these barriers the global community needs to make universal access to family planning a higher priority and recognize that access to family planning is a human right:  adults and youth, wherever they live, should be able to decide the number, timing and spacing of their children.  We still have a long ways to go, however, in making that right a reality.   In far too many countries, it is still a privilege, not a right.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

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