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US Religious Leaders Probe Claims of Coerced Abortions in China


U.S. religious leaders are touring China this week to investigate allegations that the U.N. Population Fund is supporting government-sponsored coercion in its family planning work.

Because conservative American legislators oppose U.S. funding for the population fund, or UNFPA, nine religious leaders who lean in the U.N. agency’s favor came to China on Saturday and will stay through Thursday to look at family planning work in the country.

The nine Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders are visiting urban and rural areas in Beijing and three Chinese provinces on the privately funded trip. They also are meeting with health officials, religious leaders and villagers, according to a press statement.

‘Several of the denominations represented on this delegation are on record as supporters of U.S. funding for UNFPA and feel it is important that they assess the situation themselves,’ the statement said.

By Wednesday, the religious leaders had visited three Beijing clinics, talked to villagers and met with UNFPA’s representative in China. The clinics are ‘in line with international standards,’ a group spokesperson said.

A source close to the group said no signs of coercion were detected. Instead, the source said, the group found family planning improvements over the past few years in personal choice, confidentiality and access to information. UNFPA is partly responsible for these changes, the source said.

Conservative U.S. politicians who distrust China and oppose abortion are fighting liberal legislators over UNFPA’s role in China.

Skeptics fear China is forcing women to have abortions to carry out its one-child policy and contain its expanding population of 1.3 billion and that the U.N. agency, the world’s largest international source of funding for population and reproductive health programs, is complicit.

U.S. President George W. Bush is holding up US$34 million in funding for the agency, citing potential
support for abortion in China.

According to the U.S. State Department, the UNFPA’s support of, and involvement in, China’s population-planning activities allows the Chinese government ‘to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion’ as an integral part of its population-control program.

An UNFPA spokesman in New York said the allegations against the agency are groundless.

‘UNFPA does not support the use of coercion in China or anywhere else in the world,’ said spokesman Abubakar Dungus. ‘It promotes the human rights-based approach of the International Conference on Population and Development that it is the right of individuals and couples to decide freely on the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to exercise that right.’
‘UNFPA is in China to promote a voluntary approach to family planning,’ he said.

The agency, which supports family planning in 32 countries and works against sexually-transmitted diseases and violence against women in 140 countries altogether, has distributed $6 billion in funding since its founding in 1969. Recent annual funding, from governments and private parties, is about $370 million.

This article courtesy of Kyodo News Service.

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