Very Bad News for the U.N. Population Fund

Since its founding in 1969, the United Nations Population Fund (also known as UNFPA, the acronym of its earlier name) has expended almost $5 billion on population control programs worldwide. In the early days, population control was seen by many as an appropriate response to fears of a population explosion that could doom billions of humans to starvation. Today, with fertility rates in steady decline, UNFPA usually justifies its actions under another dubious and discredited notion — that curbing population growth is essential to achieving "sustainable development" in countries of the developing world. UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obaid, for example, recently stated: "We cannot confront the massive challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction unless we address issues of population and reproductive health" (Feb. 5, 2003 press release).

The old – and real – agenda remains unchanged: to liberate women from the shackles of children, husbands and their own biology by legalizing abortion worldwide. Even coerced sterilization and abortion for women who desire more than one or two children are accepted or tolerated as "necessary" to achieve population reduction targets and workforce equality.

The pro-life and human rights communities have a tough time convincing Congress and the public about the true aims of international family planning practices. UNFPA directors and their partners in international family planning consistently speak about reproductive "choice" and deny any element of coercion. UNFPA officials have responded to past charges of coercion with intentionally ambiguous statements, institutional denials and orchestrated media campaigns.

But the status quo is about to change. One of the most important must-read nonfiction books that will never appear on the New York Times' list of best sellers is The United Nations Population Fund: Assault on the World's Peoples. The slim, copiously footnoted volume is the work of Douglas A. Sylva, Ph.D. who heads the International Organizations Research Group. It is the second in a series of White Papers published by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam).

Dr. Sylva and C-Fam have produced a work that is likely to forever change the annual debate on U.S. funding of UNFPA and other population control organizations. Dr. Sylva has combed official records of the U.S. Department of State, UNFPA, other U.N. sources and numerous other primary sources to expose UNFPA's record of complicity in human rights violations in China, Vietnam and elsewhere — coupled with gross mismanagement of funds and complete lack of candor regarding its involvement in programs of coercive abortion and sterilization. Some of his findings are as follows:

UNFPA helped lay the foundations for China's "one child per family" policy, first adopted in 1979. UNFPA provided China with $50 million in seed money and expertise in demographics and data processing that were probably indispensable. Briefly, China's policy constitutionally requires all married couples to practice "family planning." Menstrual cycles are charted by the State Family Planning Commission (SFPC) to monitor compliance. Birth permits are issued for the first child only, except in some rural areas where officials have been lax or open to bribery and two children have been allowed under some circumstances. Subsequent pregnancies are forcibly aborted, even during full-term delivery. Infanticide has been documented. After the first birth, IUD use is mandatory. A second birth triggers mandatory sterilization of one parent. Additional penalties for "out-of-plan births" can include "social compensation fees," i.e. fines of three times the parents' annual salary, imprisonment of the couple and their family members, and destruction of homes and property. Wide-scale abortion and sterilization are also carried out for eugenic reasons.

As the brutality and staggering sweep of China's family planning program became known in the mid-1980s (i.e., 53 million forced abortions between 1979 and 1984), UNFPA vigorously denied the program's coercive nature while also praising its effectiveness. Between 1994 and 1998, under pressure from U.S. human rights advocates, UNFPA stopped funding China's program. But their collaboration officially resumed in 1998 in 32 counties of China where, UNFPA insisted, no quotas, permits or coercion were taking place (unlike the rest of the country). Since then, UNFPA has steadfastly maintained the voluntary nature of family planning in those 32 counties and its complete innocence or ignorance of any quotas or coercion. Today, UNFPA continues to pour millions of dollars into these 32 counties of China for computers, data processing equipment, surgical and medical equipment and project vehicles, all of which are instrumental in enforcing China's coercive policy.

Vietnam: In 1991, UNFPA's then executive director Nafis Sadik announced that UNFPA, with the assistance of Chinese demographers, was ready to export China's "successful" program to Vietnam. Social compensation fees, confiscation of land, forced use of IUDs and forced abortions have all become features of Vietnam's "two child per family" policy. Dr. Sylva states that "UNFPA operates at least seven programs in Vietnam, and has spent tens of millions of dollars to support" its highly successful, coercive population reduction program.

Peru: UNFPA contributed over $10 million to a massive sterilization campaign which began in 1995. The campaign was rife with coercive practices – quotas were set, cash bonuses were paid to health workers for each client sterilized, and poor women were bribed with nutritional supplements and clothes for their children. In addition, sterilization surgeries often were performed in "substandard conditions" resulting in medical complications and death. When these abuses were brought to the attention of the U.S. Congress and media, largely through the investigations and efforts of Steve Mosher and the Population Research Institute, Peruvian leaders eventually had to admit the coercion and apologize for it.

Mismanagement on a monumental scale: Compared to the human rights abuses summarized above, fraud and mismanagement seem almost trivial. Yet the level of systemic incompetence is breathtaking. A United Nations Board of Auditors Report revealed that in the 1998-1999 biennium, UNFPA could not account for how 50% of the money it distributed to nations and to non-governmental family planning organizations was used!

"Weakness in project formulation" and "poor project design" meant the success of most of UNFPA's efforts could not be adequately gauged. The Auditors analyzed twelve completed projects and found that nine "were not successful" and three "were distinct failures." Failures do not simply mean money was wasted; in some cases, they can mean that lives are lost. UNFPA boasts of being "the largest international supplier of condoms to developing countries for the past 30 years." Yet, in 2002 the government of Tanzania rejected a shipment of 10 million UNFPA condoms because they were defective – they leaked! Because UNFPA erroneously promotes and distributes condoms as the first line of defense against HIV/AIDS, the Fund's lack of oversight can lead to increased rates of infection and death.

Since 1985, a provision of U.S. law (the Kemp-Kasten Amendment) has barred U.S. funding of organizations that support or participate in the management of a program of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Thanks to the detailed, carefully documented evidence amassed in The United Nations Population Fund: Assault on the World's Peoples, the annual Congressional debate on UNFPA funding should be more lopsided than ever.