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Carrying on from Cairo

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 01 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:0405206
  1. Padmasayee Papineni, fourth year medical student1
  1. 1University College London

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development demanded “reproductive health for all by 2015” in its programme of action. Padmasayee Papineni finds out if the programme is on course to achieve its aim

Over the last seventy years the global population has tripled, from 2 billion to 6.1 billion, and it continues to grow by about 77 million people a year.1 The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo marked an era of increasing sensitivity to the issues surrounding population growth--it extended national and international population policies beyond their demographic focus to encompass the broader issues of reproductive health and rights. The ICPD programme of action that was signed by 179 countries proclaimed “reproductive health for all by 2015.” But 10 years after Cairo, has the enthusiasm generated by the ICPD translated into any real change in terms of access to services and protection of rights?

Embracing a rights based approach

In the 1960s international debates about population and health were dominated by birth control. In a speech to the United Nations, US president Lyndon Baines Johnson declared: “Let us act on the fact that less than five dollars invested in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth.” Then in the 1974 World Population Conference in Bucharest, debate implied that high fertility was a result of poverty, rather than a cause. Development was seen as the best contraceptive and the term population control became outdated--it emphasised demographic targets and focused on coercive policies.

The 1970s had seen the start of coercive methods of birth control. The “emergency period” in India saw the enforcement of compulsory sterilisation, and China's one child per family policy began. These policies encouraged discrimination against female children--between 1981 and 1991 …

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