Thursday, June 1, 2000

The Clinton administration will push for Senate approval of a United Nations treaty used to promote legal prostitution in China, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said yesterday.

A U.N. committee recently ordered China to allow women to sell their bodies as “sex workers.” The order, issued by the body that will oversee the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, calls prostitution a “reproductive right” over one’s body.

The treaty has 165 signatories including China with the United States the sole Western Hemisphere holdout.

Miss Shalala said she saw no inconsistency in the Clinton administration’s efforts to overcome Senate opposition to the treaty and to end global sex trafficking.

Asked whether the United States endorsed the instruction to China by the U.N. committee that implements the treaty, Miss Shalala responded firmly, “No.”

Asked why the U.N. committee issued the instruction for China to legalize prostitution, Miss Shalala said, “You’ll have to ask them. We’re not on the committee.”

Miss Shalala seemed frustrated by questions about the U.N. CEDAW committee’s instruction to China to legalize prostitution.

“Anyone want to talk about Fiji?” she asked as questions were raised.

Linda Tarr-Whelan, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, said the U.N. instruction to China was just “one line in a very long report,” which had no mandatory significance.

Asked whether the treaty can force China to legalize prostitution, Miss Shalala said, “It has no power to do so.”

“The country has the right to reject” a U.N. order to legalize prostitution, Miss Tarr-Whelan said. The United Nations cannot supersede a country’s national sovereignty, she said.

Anita K. Blair, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative group that opposes treaty known as CEDAW said the U.N. and World Bank consistently strong-arm poor countries to adopt social policies contrary to their own traditions as a price for global monetary aid.

“We continually hear that developing countries are forced, as a practical matter, to accept conditions stemming from U.N. documents in order to obtain international loans,” Miss Blair said.

“This is a form of cultural imperialism to require other countries to adopt the failed social policies of the developed world in order to finance their own development,” she said. “If they are going to get roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, they need capital from the developed world. It is used as a kind of blackmail.”

Miss Shalala said the Clinton administration was “quite frustrated on the inability to ratify CEDAW.”

The treaty has been held up by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has refused to bring it up for consideration.

“I’m not sure I want to get into the politics of who’s opposing it,” Miss Shalala said when questioned about the administration’s priority to get Senate approval.

Meanwhile, the health and human services secretary yesterday said 700,000 women and children are trafficked each year as part of the global sex trade and for other illicit purposes.

“Many governments have taken action to blunt an alarming increase in trafficking of women,” she said. “The United States is also working to stop trafficking on several fronts, ranging from public awareness programs to specialized training for police and immigration officials.”

The Independent Women’s Forum publicized in its April newsletter the U.N. order to China to legalize prostitution under the CEDAW treaty.

The forum’s report said the U.N.’s treaty panel appeared “to be implementing only the vague language favored by the radicals” in the CEDAW treaty.

“Even the right to sell one’s body is included in the radical interpretation of ‘reproductive rights,’ as China was recently instructed by the CEDAW Committee to legalize prostitution,” the newsletter noted.

“Prostitutes are now referred to as ‘sex workers,’ connoting that prostitution is just another job.”

Miss Shalala and Miss Tarr-Whelan responded to the report at a briefing at the State Department, where they outlined the administration’s agenda for a fifth anniversary conference on implementation of the Platform for Action, a series of goals on women’s issues, adopted in Beijing in 1995.

The meeting is set for next week at U.N. headquarters in New York. Miss Shalala will be one of the leaders of the U.S. delegation.

Miss Shalala said 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 non-government organization (NGO) delegates from 189 U.N. member nations would review country-by-country progress on promoting women’s social, economic and political equality under the Beijing platform.

They conference also will announce commitments for further governmental action over the next five years.

Miss Shalala listed expanded health initiatives for women and children, preventing violence against women, economic investment initiatives to help women start small businesses and renewed action to prevent trafficking in women and children among the administration’s top priorities under the U.N. women’s agenda for the next five years.

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