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Dark cloud shades U.N. women's treaty

By Wendy McElroy
web posted June 24, 2002

The U.S. Senate is debating ratification of a U.N. treaty that has been pending for over two decades.

However, a stubborn cloud hangs over the treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Of the many reasons to oppose CEDAW, one of them is the U.N.'s probable complicity in China's one-child policy that forces women to abort pregnancies if they already have a child. It is a shadow that darkens all U.N. programs regarding women and children.

The U.N. Population Fund provides mega-financing to developing nations, including China, to assist them in family planning. Currently at issue is Congress' appropriation of 34 million dollars for the UNFPA. Will American tax dollars facilitate coerced abortions?

The UNFPA says "no."

In 1999, Dr. Nafis Sadik  then executive director of the UNFPA said that in the "32 pilot counties [targeted by UNFPA], the Chinese have agreed to a program that lifts all birth quotas and targets including the one-child policy."

In other words, forced abortions would not happen where the UNPFA had to see them.

In a few months, however, China's unofficial one-child policy will become nationwide law. Yet, a recent UNFPA fact-finding "study tour" of China discovered no evidence of coerced family planning.

Thus, the flood of first-hand horror stories from Chinese women the sort of evidence that the U.N. finds compelling on virtually every other issue is dismissed.

According to critics of the UNFPA, the study-tour was able to reach its see-no-evil, speak-no-evil conclusions because Chinese authorities only allowed UNFPA delegates to tour a tiny area with controlled interviews.

Establishing the facts is essential, but an underlying assumption of the discussion must also be addressed: Namely, that the world is overpopulated and reproduction needs to be governed.

Overpopulation is said to cause poverty, starvation, disease, war, environmental disaster ... virtually all evil is laid at the feet of parents who wish to have children. 

The idea of overpopulation is inextricably mixed with the UNFPA, U.N. family planning and forced abortion. This makes it intimately connected to CEDAW, which promotes "reproductive rights." Or does CEDAW promote the right not to have children rather than the right to reproduce?

There are several grounds on which to challenge the overpopulation assumption, including:

Factually: The UNPFA offers math-enshrouded charts and graphs based on a soaring world population. But how do they really know what the world population is? 

Africa, for example, is ravaged by war and disease; much of it is inaccessible and without birth records. Statistician Bjorn Lomborg disputes U.N. data, stating: "The rate of increase has been declining ever since [the early 1960s]. It is now 1.26 percent and is expected to fall to 0.46 percent in 2050." 

He also disputes the alleged rise of poverty. "[T]he proportion of people in developing countries who are starving has dropped from 45 percent in 1949 to 18 percent today, and is expected to decrease even further to 12 percent in 2010."

Politically: "Overpopulation causes poverty!" is the cry of U.N. voices that wish to restrict reproduction. 

Totalitarian governments must find that cry convenient: If the Chinese starve, it is not because of disastrous governmental policies. Instead, the "exonerated" government can join the U.N. in pointing an accusing finger at parents who selfishly desire families. Shifting the blame disguises the fact that taxation, monopoly privileges, government waste, and regulation create poverty. 

"Poor" areas of the world, like Hong Kong and South Korea, prosper when government gets out of the way.

Economically: Even if UNPFA estimates of population are correct, why is that frightening? One answer usually comes back with predictability: because the world's natural resources are being depleted. 

In his article ""The Population Problem That Isn't," political commentator Sheldon Richman rebuts that point. Richman argues: "[I]n practical terms, the supply of a resource is not finite. It is integrally dependent on human ingenuity. If we were to think of ways to double the efficiency with which we use oil, it would be equivalent to doubling the supply of oil." 

Human ingenuity, not government, solves the problem of scarcity. The nations in which poverty is greatest are those that restrain human ingenuity that is, freedom and punish initiative.

Powerful voices are demanding that the U.S. ratify CEDAW. In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Senate Needs to Ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women," Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., declare CEDAW to be "an international bill of rights." They call the treaty "a tool that women around the world can use in their struggle for basic human rights."

Until the UNPFA ceases to be a tool used by the Chinese dictatorship to brutalize women, the words "basic human rights" and "United Nations" should not be used in the same sentence.

CEDAW allegedly champions women's reproductive rights. The treaty cannot be divorced from the U.N.'s general policies of population control. The U.N.'s hypocrisy in condemning some human rights atrocities while tacitly supporting others taints CEDAW.

More government is not the answer to poverty or human well being. Individual freedom is.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • CEDAW by Antonia Feitz (November 29, 1999)
    What's CEDAW? Antonia Feitz explains the 1979 United Nations treaty which bars discrimination against women

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