Every child should be wanted

Date: January 1, 1970
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It seems that almost every day is a United Nations International “Day.À Some of these days get significant attention, such as World AIDS Day, while others go virtually unnoticed. On 11 July, the world commemorated World Population Day, with this year’s theme, “It’s a right, let’s make it real.”

Except for in certain circles, this international day went virtually unnoticed, with no global music concerts or worldwide marches. Yet the reality for women and children all across Africa, and the world, points to an urgent need for attention and action. 
When Gladys Kumbuyo* fell pregnant at 17, she told her family members that it was a mistake. Six years down the line, she is a mother of four children. Each new pregnancy brought regret. She continued to tell people that it was unplanned and a mistake not to repeat.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), at least 200 million women want to use safe and effective family planning methods, but are unable to do so because they lack access to information and services or the support of their husbands and communities.
Women in developing countries suffer disproportionately from unintended pregnancies and maternal death, often putting their lives at risk. More than 536 000 women die from pregnancy related causes every year. If all women who wanted effective contraception had access to it, one in three of the deaths are avoidable.
For many women, desperation forces them to take measures after the fact. More than 50 million of the 190 million women who become pregnant each year have abortions. Many of these are clandestine and performed under unsafe conditions.
Women’s ability to plan childbearing is an essential part of their ability to live not only healthy, but also happy and productive lives.  “Family planning is essential to women’s empowerment… When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA in a statement.
In Zimbabwe, awareness of family planning issues is very high, resulting in less unwanted births. “Contraceptive prevalence rate is 60 percent and total fertility rate, which is the average number of children per woman, has reduced from six in 1984 to the current three. This means that many people are accessing family planning services,” said Fatima Mhuriro, Assistant Director, Information, Education and Communication at the Zimbabwe National Planning Family Council (ZNFPC). 
This shows that a bit of prevention goes a long way. While family planning is a basic human right, it remains out of reach for hundreds of millions of women, men and young people. The theme for World Population Day 2008 re-affirms the importance and right of people to family planning. Without information and services, there is no way to exercise that right.
To prevent unnecessary deaths, women need to be empowered to be in control of their own reproductive health rights and to be able to make decisions about matters of life that affect them.
This is not only essential for women, but for fathers and children as well. Controlling family size means less pressure on already stretched family resources.
The irony is, there is a wide range of family planning options for both men and women.  These include the use of contraceptive pills, injectables, implants, diaphragm, vasectomy and the use of condoms.
Condoms are an essential family planning method because they offer dual protection from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy.  For people who are already HIV positive, condoms can prevent re-infection. Unfortunately, many women find it hard or impossible to negotiate with their partners to use condoms, or other forms of birth control. Culturally, men tend to make these decisions.
So, while World Population Day may not include the widespread fanfare that accompanies other such commemorations, it is time to recognise that the very basic and easily implemented right for each person to plan their family and take care of their reproductive health is an essential part of the response to HIV/AIDS and promoting women’s and children’s  rights.  Every child should be a wanted one, and planned for, so that their needs will always be cared for.
Gloria Ganyani works with Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) Media Unit in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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