EU development aid failing to deliver on family planning goals

'Serious investment' and 'ambitious targets' for family planning are urgently needed, argue Linda McAvan and Elly Schlein.

Saint Valentine's Day is of course a celebration of love, but it is also about choice; the choice to enter into a relationship, the choice to spend your life with another person.

Another choice couples should be free to make is the number of children to have, if any, and the spacing between pregnancies.

Unfortunately, there are over 220 million women worldwide, mostly living in the developing world, who do not have this choice. They do not have access to modern, safe and effective means of family planning, although this is something they desire.

For these women, unwanted pregnancy can be a matter of life and death, particularly for women with underlying health problems or those who seek to end their pregnancy by an unsafe abortion.

Each year the unmet need for family planning results in 54 million pregnancies, 16 million unsafe abortions, and 79,000 maternal deaths.

"Each year the unmet need for family planning results in 54 million pregnancies, 16 million unsafe abortions, and 79,000 maternal deaths"

It can also be the difference between a family living in poverty - where limited resources are spread thinly between multiple family members - and having a decent standard of living, where they are not trailed by the constant shadow of hunger.

By delaying pregnancy, women can continue their education and therefore increase their earning potential. This in turn increases the likelihood of their children receiving a quality education.

Even the Pope has recently acknowledged that it is undesirable to have large numbers of children without the economic means to support them. However, he does not believe that women should have access to the most effective and safest means of avoiding this.

For national governments, the economic argument for voluntary family planning is compelling. The World Bank has shown that countries in which family size decreases over time experience a rapid increase in their gross national product.

In Bangladesh, for example, falling fertility rates have been accompanied by a considerable increase in income per person since the 1980s.

"The World Bank has shown that countries in which family size decreases over time experience a rapid increase in their gross national product"

What is more, providing family planning is relatively cheap. The cost-effectiveness of investing in family planning is similar to that of other health interventions, such as the provision of basic sanitation and about 10 times as cost effective as anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/Aids.

As part of the millennium development goals, the international community pledged to tackle maternal mortality by providing universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

That target has been missed by a considerable distance because donors, including the EU and its member states, have failed to dedicate an adequate portion of their development aid budgets to family planning.

Over the coming months, the international community will agree on a new development framework. During these negotiations, it is very important that the EU and its member states insist on ambitious targets.

However, the achievement of a whole range of these goals - including those relating to poverty, hunger, environmental sustainability, child mortality, education and gender equality - will be badly compromised if they are not backed up by serious investment in the promotion of voluntary family planning.

Without this financial support, millions of lovers around the world will be denied the human right to choose the number and spacing of their children and, consequently, the right to live healthy, decent lives.

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