June 1st 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Embryonic Research - Is government money funding private profit?

EDITORIAL: The Budget - time for new directions

BIOETHICS: Medical breakthrough: researchers turn skin cells into T-cells

CANBERRA: The fallacy behind the disability crackdown

Straws in the Wind: Voodoo dolls / Rodney Rude for a Logie?

HEALTH: No answer to party drugs: AMA

BANKS: Kiwibank has 150 branches in New Zealand

Rag Trade (letter)

SBS traduced (letter)

Boat people: another view (letter)

Trade hypocrisy (letter)

East Timor (letter)

Refugees? (letter)

UN Special Session on Children splits on abortion, sex education

DEMOGRAPHY: Budget ignores an ageing Australia

MEDIA: Sport - how media moguls play to win

CHILDREN'S BOOKS: 'What Should My Child Read?' by Susan Moore

BOOKS: 'Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A portrait of Paul Keating' by Don Watson

BOOKS: 'Science, Money and Politics', by Daniel Greenberg

BOOKS: 'GERMAN BOY: A Child in War', by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel

OPINION: Dangers in cross-media monopolies

Books promotion page

Special Session on Children splits on abortion, sex education

by Rita Joseph

News Weekly, June 1, 2002
Abortion services and comprehensive non-judgmental sex education for children dominated discussions at this month's United Nations Special Session on Children. Rita Joseph reports that the international community was deeply divided on whether provision of either would improve children's well-being.

At the May 8-10 UN Special Session on Children, more than 60 world leaders and 6,000 delegates gathered in New York to finalise a United Nations plan of action setting priorities to improve living conditions, health and education for children over the next decade.

Twelve years ago, in 1990, the UN World Summit for Children largely focused on medical issues such as reduction of infant-mortality rates and preventable childhood diseases. But this new plan of action, called "A world fit for children", focuses more on adolescents and promises children protection from all forms of sexual exploitation, from the worst forms of child labor and from direct involvement in armed conflict.


Many other good initiatives, such as increasing access to safe water and sanitation, were agreed upon unanimously, but the meeting came to grief over whether or not adolescents' reproductive and sexual health programs should be rights-based and should endorse a right to abortion, and a right to be sexually active at a very young age.

The United States and a handful of predominantly Catholic and Islamic allies argued long and hard to have the term "reproductive health services" (which by definition includes abortion) removed from the outcome document. As one delegate put it, "abortion services should have no place in a document about children".

Even though abortion for children was rejected, it must surely stand as an indictment that, as regards the abortion of children, this meeting would not address the horrific injustice involved in the abortion of 45 million children each year. At no point does the outcome document take up or reaffirm the fundamental human rights obligation of all governments to provide legislative protection for every child before birth, as well as after birth.

This obligation is set down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). All UN member countries, except the US, have agreed to be bound by this Convention, but in everything that was agreed at this Children's Summit 2002, among innumerable references and appeals to the human rights standards of this Convention, the rights of the child before birth were avoided like the plague.

The American delegation, headed by US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, argued very strongly to include in the document some reference to abstinence education and some endorsement for programs that would encourage adolescents to delay sexual initiation until marriage. But both these initiatives were defeated, largely due to the implacable opposition mounted by the European Union and its lackeys, which include Australia.

The US delegation also tried hard to introduce the concept of "promoting sound values" for adolescents. But this was rejected summarily on the alleged grounds that it is too difficult to decide what constitute "sound values". Our negotiators on the Australian delegation failed to support the US on any of these issues.

Unfortunately, it has become de rigueur at these UN conferences to reject any suggestion that serious problems might require a change in morality, behavioural changes, particularly changes in sexual behaviour.

Instead, grave problems stemming from immoral behaviours are treated as major health problems demanding government health policies focusing on the provision of condoms, contraceptives, surgical procedures such as abortion and sterilisation - and practically anything else, just so long as it doesn't involve any moral imperatives requiring behavioural changes.

The New York Times (May 12) appeared to rejoice that the Bush Administration's pro-family and sound values initiatives were defeated, and seemed to take particular satisfaction in the outcome that the US delegation was unable to "manage to make abstinence for unmarried teenagers the centrepiece of sex education". The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post took a similar view.

It needs some probing, this ideological opposition to adolescent abstinence and sound values - by the American press and by our own Australian delegation. For some time now, the Bush administration has been dubbed part of "the religious right" - a pejorative term - but Australia is said to belong to the innocuously entitled "Like-minded Group".

A more honest description would call them the "bloody-minded group" or the "licentious left", for such is the fanaticism of their commitment to an extreme sexual liberalism that these delegations will not deflect from their sexual rights agenda even when the latest statistical evidence on the harm ensuing from this agenda is presented in the most stark and incontrovertible terms.

The latest report by the Population Division of the United Nations includes data on adolescent sexual behaviour and the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS among adolescents. The reality behind the statistics is appalling. The report reveals

(i) that sexual intercourse for adolescent girls under 15 years of age usually occurs under pressure;

(ii) that these girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual coercion and are less likely to be able to negotiate condom use or partner fidelity;

(iii) that prevalence of sexual activity before age 18 is an indicator of reproductive health problems because psychological and emotional immaturity is often associated with risk-taking behaviour; and

(iv) that adolescent girls are biologically more susceptible (because of the immaturity of the cervix) to sexually transmitted infections (STIs): they have the highest prevalence of chlamydia and their risk of contracting HIV infection is up to 5 or 6 times higher than boys.


Surely it should be concluded from copious references and research findings now available attesting to "the greater vulnerability of female adolescents because of the immaturity of the cervix", that girls should be protected from early sexual activity, not educated to engage in it "safely" at an age where it can never be deemed safe.

Indeed, enough statistical evidence is presented to convince even the most sanguine sexual liberals that exposure to sexual activity at an early age is fraught with utterly unacceptable health risks. The European Union and its allies (including Australia), however, could not bring themselves to draw the most obvious rational conclusion that such adolescents need comprehensive protection from all forms of premature sexual initiation.

There is in the final document of this Special Session all the usual prevarication on marriage and parental guidance that has become the norm on the UN conference circuit over the last decade.

Serious concern was expressed quite rightly as to the adverse effects of early marriage, and calls were made for age-at-marriage laws to be enforced. But there was no corresponding call for strict enforcement of the laws against the seduction of minors and against underage sexual intercourse. Why not?

Girls who are rightly deemed too young for marriage are, it seems, never too young to be sexually active.

If a girl is too young for marriage, why isn't she too young to make an informed decision about her "exposure to sex, pregnancy, STIs and childbearing outside of the context of marriage"?

An April 2002 UN Secretary-General's Report attributed the general increase in the prevalence of adolescent pre-marital sexual activity to the widening gap between the age of sexual initiation and the age of marriage.

But this was seen only as further confirmation that provision of condoms and abortion services must be urgently expanded.

It should not be surprising that the statistical tables showed education to have had only mixed success in influencing the age of sexual initiation.

The honest conclusion that should have been drawn (but wasn't) is that reproductive health education programs operating over the last decade in industrialised countries are not working with regards to protecting adolescents from premature sexual initiation. Have these programs really tried to defer sexual initiation, or have they merely accepted increased sexual activity at younger and younger ages with tolerant phrases such as "The onset of sexual activity typically takes place during adolescence, a period of growth, experimentation and identity search ..."?

The question has to be asked: why the UN Secretariat, the UN agencies and the EU and its allies continue to be so resistant to any effort to discourage sexual activity among children (defined at this summit as "every human being below 18 years of age")?

The unmistakeable underlying assumption is that sexually active children should not be deterred, chastised or judged - they are to be a law unto themselves.

Lack of privacy and confidentiality, fear of social stigma and judgmental attitudes of service providers are all condemned as restricting adolescents' access to the condoms, contraceptives and abortion services that are supposed to supply them with seamless protection to continue in risk-taking behaviours.

Yet privacy and confidentiality are not necessarily helpful to adolescents caught in the inevitable abuses of under-age sexual activity; and "fear of social stigma and judgmental attitudes" may be a deliberate misrepresentation of the benign signs of a community's concern to advise and protect adolescents in recognition of their "psychological and emotional immaturity".

The only restrictions that UN authorities will allow should be placed on adolescents (defined as from age 10) are that they must be taught to have only "protected sex". This doesn't make sense given the latest statistical revelations from the UN Population Division of just how difficult it is even for adults, even with the very best access to the very best information and services in the Western world to protect themselves successfully. It is reported, for example, that HIV infection rates are climbing in North American cities, Amsterdam and Eastern Europe, and that "unsafe sex threatens to become the norm again".

If prevention efforts are stalling in most industrialised countries and evidence shows that HIV incidence has not declined in the past five years, then why does the licentious left continue to insist that these same flawed services can be trusted to protect adolescents in all their vulnerability - their psychological and emotional immaturity demonstrably associated with "risk-taking"?

Why is it that this Children's Summit could not be brought to acknowledge the dangers associated with adolescent sexual activity with the same forthright education and health initiatives as are applied to smoking in this document? The health risks of smoking are recognised as being too high to allow adolescents to adopt "safer smoking" - with a cigarette holder, lower tar-level cigarettes or whatever.

Yet the health risks of premature sexual activity, especially for adolescent girls, are far higher than for smoking, and the effects of HIV/AIDS are terrifyingly more immediate than the effects of lung cancer some years into the future.

If it was any behaviour other than sexual activity that was found to carry with it a 500% to 600% increased risk of contracting the deadly HIV infection, would the licentious Left continue to advocate the rights of adolescent girls to continue in that behaviour?

If the international community has been given the biological data that shows that it is the immaturity of the cervix that makes adolescent girls under age 15 so very vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, why were attempts to protect these girls from premature sexual initiation so determinedly stopped?

This is sexual liberalism extended to the point of irrationality - it is utterly irresponsible.

The time has come to call a halt to all UN reproductive and sexual health and education programs that are flawed with this ideologically extreme liberalism.

If UN agencies and the international community, including Australia, are no longer prepared, at an international summit on children, to support parents and local communities in the moral imperative to protect their children, especially from premature sexual initiation, then we should make our displeasure known, and call for urgent reform, including the expulsion from high places of those ideologues pushing their dangerously liberal sexual agenda.

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