Wed, 31 Aug 1994

Controversial Cairo meeting

Never before has a planned international conference been so controversial that it has stirred up a storm of protests from both the Catholic and Moslem worlds. Yet that is the case with the United Nations Conference on Population and Development, scheduled to be held in the Egyptian capital of Cairo next week.

The focus of the conference is to find ways of solving population problems and to boost social development by stabilizing population. The methods of doing so, according to the draft document, involve the allowance of abortion, the use of contraception and concern with healthy sexual behavior.

Obviously these are things that are not acceptable in terms of strict religious ethics.

First, the highest leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, criticized the UN-sponsored conference as anti- family and a threat to the traditional family structure. In this context, he pointed an accusing finger at the action plan of the conference, which authorizes abortion in reining in population growth.

Then, the Iranian media assailed the draft document for the conference, saying that it legalized, under the legitimate banner of population control, abortion, homosexuality and pre-marital sex, which Iran's journalists branded "immoral practices".

And yesterday, Saudi Arabia and Turkey said they would not send their delegations to the conference, while a more vocal Sudan also decided to boycott the meeting, saying that the proposed program of the conference contradicted moral and religious values. All three countries are Moslem nations.

The fear of overpopulation, in fact, was aired early last century when British economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, predicted that mankind would one day be doomed to near-starvation because population growth increases at a much faster rate than that of food production. Even then Malthus called for efforts to cut the birth rate by sexual restraint.

Now, many countries, particularly developing nations, are running family planning programs through which they hope to rein in their individual population growth rates.

Indonesia, for example, has been highly praised for its family planning scheme by international communities and organizations, including the UN, because it has successfully controlled its population growth through its small but healthy family concept.

As a country with a predominantly Moslem population and highly developed cultural ethics, Indonesia is also against abortion and extramarital sex.

Abortion is authorized here only when the delivery of a baby endangers its mother's life, or for other reasons justified by the law, such as the abnormal development of a fetus, which could end up with the physical deformity of a child.

In that light, it will not be surprising should the proposals of the Cairo conference be rejected by Indonesia.

Hopefully State Minister for Population Haryono Suyono, who is scheduled to lead the Indonesian delegation to the conference, will reject not only the objectionable proposals being put forth in Cairo, but also will mobilize other nations to support the effective and positive family planning policies which Indonesia has demonstrated successfully worldwide.