- Associated Press - Thursday, February 21, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. General Assembly decided Thursday to hold a special session next year to assess implementation of a plan world leaders adopted nearly two decades ago to slow the global population explosion.

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus summoning heads of state and government to the Sept. 22, 2014 meeting. It will mark the 20th anniversary of the U.N. population conference in Cairo when some 180 nations adopted a plan that focused on birth control, economic development and giving women more power over their lives.

Since the Cairo conference in 1994, the world’s population has grown from 5.7 billion to about 7 billion. Last month, the U.N.’s top population official, Babatunde Osotimehin, said the world will add a billion people within a decade, further straining the planet’s resources.

Kenya’s deputy U.N. ambassador Koki Muli, whose country spearheaded approval of the resolution, said the “forward-looking” action plan adopted in Cairo in 1994 set the stage for the U.N. women’s conference in Beijing in 1995 and remains relevant today. She said there will be no final document from the 2014 session, a move that will avoid contentious negotiations on issues such as reproductive rights for women, sex education, abortion and family planning.

The Cairo conference changed the U.N. Population Fund’s focus from numerical targets to promoting choices for individual women and men, and supporting economic development and education for girls. Underlying the shift was research showing that educated women have smaller families.

Osotimehin, the U.N. Population Fund’s executive director, called last month for governments to do more to ensure that women have access to family planning and for girls to receive “comprehensive sexuality education.”

The Cairo conference recognized for the first time the need for a comprehensive approach to controlling rapid population growth and broke the taboo on discussing sexuality, adolescent sexual behavior and the real concerns of women and families.

At the heart of the 1994 action plan is a demand for equality of women through education, access to modern birth control, and the right to choose if and when to become pregnant. The only reservation added at the conference was that this should be in accordance with national laws, religion and culture.

The document established the right to reproductive health and access to family planning, and stressed the need to raise the status of women and give girls equal education. It also recognized that abortion is practiced around the world and should be treated as a major public health issue and indicated that affordable and acceptable family planning is central to achieving safe motherhood.

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