Countries reach deal at children's summit

Saturday, May 11, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States reached agreement Friday with other nations on contentious issues including abortion and the death penalty, clearing the way to adopt plans aimed at improving conditions for the world's children.

More than 180 countries at the U.N. General Assembly special session on children were expected to adopt the document titled "A World Fit For Children" late Friday or early Saturday.

Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund, said the final document of the U.N.'s children's summit focuses on four areas: promoting healthy lives, access to and completion of quality education, protection of children against abuse violence and exploitation and fighting HIV and AIDS.

The final language on reproductive and sexual health reaffirmed commitments made by the world's nations at five U.N. conferences in the last eight years, which include ensuring that adolescents have the right to sex education and reproductive and sexual health services.

Conservatives in the United States contend that "reproductive health services" include abortion. U.S. officials had pressed for a footnote to the document specifically excluding abortion. This was not done, but the final agreement dropped any reference to "services."

Agreement called 'weak'

The Child Rights Caucus, which represents over 100 international nonprofit organizations, called this agreement "weak," saying it did not spell out "the rights of adolescents to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, information and services."

The U.S. delegation had pushed the Bush administration's agenda against abortion and in favor of sexual abstinence before marriage and of the traditional family -- a stand backed by the Vatican and Islamic countries including Sudan, Syria and Iraq.

To promote family values, the United States had pressed for the family to be defined as marriage between a husband and wife, because of conservative objections to homosexual marriages. But diplomats said the final document will preserve past language which takes into account "that in different cultural, social and political systems various forms of the family exist."

In a victory for the Bush administration, the document excludes the United States from a requirement barring the death penalty or life imprisonment for those under age 18.

Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador Hanns Schumacher, who chaired negotiations on the final document, said agreement was reached after 30 hours of almost round-the-clock negotiations. "It was a very moving final session. At the end it went flying," he said.

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