Press Release

Asian and Pacific Countries Reaffirm Commitment to Reproductive Health and Rights

17 December 2002
Author: UNFPA

THAILAND, Bangkok—The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today hailed a pledge by Asian and Pacific governments to give priority to population and reproductive health concerns in their work to reduce poverty.

At the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference here, ministers and senior officials from 35 countries adopted a Plan of Action calling for stepped-up efforts and increased resources to provide reproductive health care, combat AIDS and protect adolescents against unwanted or too-early pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. They also agreed that progress in addressing these and other population issues, including gender inequality, migration, urbanization and ageing, is closely linked to prospects for eradicating poverty in the region, home to two thirds of the world's 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day.

All but one of the participating governments, members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), fully reaffirmed their commitment to the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo. Most of them explicitly stated that neither the Cairo Programme nor their current action plan promoted sexual activity for unmarried adolescents or abortion, as the United States delegation contended.

"Asian and Pacific countries have forcefully reaffirmed the Cairo consensus that reproductive health and rights are indispensable for both individual well-being and progress in ending poverty," UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said after the conference. "This support is a major step forward in realizing the goals of the ICPD-universal access to reproductive health care and primary education and deep reductions in infant and maternal mortality-and halting the AIDS pandemic." [see statement by Ms. Obaid]

Development efforts, said Ms. Obaid, must target the poor directly in order to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. "We will not be able to reduce poverty by half unless we empower half the population by actively confronting gender discrimination and gender-based violence. We will not be able to cut poverty unless we expand opportunities, choices and freedoms for all people, not just a fortunate few. And we will not be able to have healthy, educated and productive people to bring about economic growth if maternal and infant and child mortality continue, if girls are denied the right to education and if young people of working age die from HIV/AIDS."

The ICPD Programme and the Key Actions of the subsequent ICPD fifth-year review, she added, "are beautifully balanced documents, giving space to everything from voluntary abstinence to meeting unmet needs for family planning, and include carefully crafted language on abortion and adolescents, which articulates the common agreement among the participants in all their diverse cultures, religions, values and practices."

"The language of the ICPD Programme of Action is extremely clear. There is no hidden agenda and no secret codes," Ms. Obaid stressed. "The phrase 'reproductive health services' is not code for the promotion or support for 'abortion services.' Nothing in the proceedings at Cairo, or the five-year review, justifies describing them as such."

The ministerial meeting was opened by Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, followed by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Kim Hak-Su, who read a message from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stating: "The Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women's rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning." Other ministers and high-level officials from the region highlighted the population challenges still facing their countries and described their progress in making the ICPD's recommendations part of national laws, policies and programmes.

Steven W. Sinding, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told the meeting, "Without reproductive freedom, the elimination of poverty is impossible." While major advances had been made since the ICPD in improving sexual and reproductive health, he added, "governments have failed to meet the financial commitments that they made in Cairo," contributing less than half of what they agreed to.

The Bangkok Plan of Action adopted today was drafted in four days of meetings last week, and finalized by the ministerial meeting. It highlights concerns and needed actions in 12 areas: population, sustainable development and poverty; international migration; internal migration and urbanization; population ageing; gender equality, equity and empowerment of women; reproductive rights and reproductive health; adolescent reproductive health; HIV/AIDS; behavioural change communication and information communication technology; data, research and training; partnerships; and resources.

Co-organized by ESCAP and UNFPA, the conference was the fifth in a series of decennial gatherings convened to promote regional cooperation in the field of population and to consider a wide range of population issues and their impact on social and economic development and poverty.


UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided close to $6 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development issues. The Fund helps ensure that women displaced by natural disasters or armed conflicts have life-saving services such as assisted delivery, and prenatal and post-partum care; and it works to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection, sexual exploitation and violence.

Contact Information:

Kristin Hetle
Tel.: +1 212-297-5020

William A. Ryan

Abubakar Dungus

Population : 69.8 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 77%
Girls 78%

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