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Fifty years ago, the world declared family planning to be a basic human right. On May 13, 1968, at the International Conference on Human Rights in Iran, the global community affirmed that, and I quote, “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.”


Throughout all of human history, efforts to plan, avoid or delay pregnancy had been a private struggle endured by women and girls. Women and girls have the right to avoid the exhaustion, depletion and danger of too many pregnancies. Men and women have the right to choose when and how often to embrace parenthood – if at all. Every individual has the human right to determine the direction and scope of his or her future in this fundamental way.


Yet 50 years later, this right is still but just a dream for too many, including here in the Philippines.


In many places, there are efforts to limit education about family planning, to restrict the variety and availability of contraceptive methods, and to prevent women and young people from accessing contraceptives at all. If you are an indigenous person or a person with disability it is even harder. In other places, this right is simply unrealized through lack of access to family planning information and services.


Misinformation about family planning is rampant – and deadly. Pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications take away the lives of many girls aged 15 to 19 – also in the Philippines -where 1 out of 10 girls at this age group is already pregnant or has a baby. Access to information and contraceptives can therefore protect young people’s lives. The more information they have, the better choices they can make to be able to fulfil their futures.


In fact, expanding access to family planning would save tens of thousands of lives every year globally by preventing unintended pregnancies, reducing the number of abortions, and lowering the incidence of death and disability related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

UNFPA Country Representative Klaus Beck gives the closing remarks at the World Population Day celebration in Valenzuela City. © UNFPA Philippines/Mario Villamor


Today, at this the World Population Day event, the Philippines joins the rest of the world in reminding ourselves that as was agreed 50 years ago family planning is a fundamental human right, and that all of us here today are committed to delivering this right to everyone, leaving no one behind.


How can society fulfill this promise? UNFPA and the World Health Organization have recognized nine standards that must be met in every community, for every individual.


One is non-discrimination. Family planning information and services cannot be restricted on the basis of race, sex, language, religion, political affiliation, national origin, age, economic status, place of residence, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.


Two, family planning must be available, in sufficient quantity, with sufficient variety, to accommodate everyone in need. This is a human rights necessity, just like access to clean drinking water, adequate sanitation and a minimum standard of health care.

A caravan of health and family planning services, such as FP Counselling, HIV testing, Papsmear Services and others, were given to the families and individuals of barangays around the Disiplina Village Bignay, Valenzuela City. © UNFPA Philippines/Mario Villamor

Three, it should not only be available, it should be accessible. This means services and information must be physically accessible, as well as affordable.


Four, family planning has to be acceptable. Contraceptive services and information must be provided in a dignified manner, respecting both modern medical ethics and the cultures of those being accommodated.


Five, people have the right to access good quality family planning. Contraceptive commodities must be unexpired, and contraceptive services must be provided by skilled health personnel in a safe, sanitary environment.


Six, family planning must be based on informed decision-making. Every person must be empowered to make reproductive choices with full autonomy, free of pressure, coercion or misrepresentation. Comprehensive contraceptive counselling must equip people with a full understanding of their choices, and they must be free to refuse any and all options.


Seven, all individuals must enjoy the right to privacy when seeking family planning information and services. Health workers must be trained to uphold the confidentiality of all people exercising their right to family planning.


Eight, societies have an obligation to ensure the active and informed participation of individuals in decisions about family planning. This means that women – who are often the primary recipients of family planning services – must be represented in the development of policies related to these services. Young people must be included in efforts to promote education about sexual and reproductive health, including family planning. The perspectives of vulnerable and marginalized must be incorporated into the provision of services in their communities.

The theme of the World Population Day event was “Family Planning is a Human Right,” commemorating the landmark agreement, fifty years ago at the United Nations conference that proclaimed: "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children." © UNFPA Philippines/Mario Villamor

And finally, health systems, education systems, leaders and policymakers must be accountable to the people they serve in all efforts to realize the human right to family planning. This means women, young people and marginalized populations must be aware of their right, and must be empowered to seek redress if this right is violated.


Until and unless these nine standards are met, this promise of a human right to family planning will not be fully realized.


Today, as we close this program and continue with the provision of services especially to those who need it most, we must remember – and studies have proven this - that family planning is a key factor in reducing poverty and promoting economic growth. And I am happy to see that the Philippine government is fully embracing this idea as they seek to bring the country into becoming a high middle income country in the next few years. Helping women and girls realize their right to family planning, including the 7 million who has an expressed unmet need for family planning here in the Philippines, will be essential to do so.


On behalf of UNFPA, we thank the City of Valenzuela for the partnership in this year’s celebration. We also thank the Commission on Population, the Department of Health and the National Economic Development Authority, for their steadfast leadership and commitment to support the rights of women and girls to family planning in the Philippines and beyond.