September 12, 1995 in Nation/World

Delegates Balance Rights Of Parents, Youths

Maggie Farley Los Angeles Times

Toppling one of the last remaining hurdles at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, delegates Monday struck a careful balance between the right of young people to have access to sex education and contraception and the right of their parents to know about it.

After 16 hours of debate, a subcommittee accommodated representatives of predominantly Roman Catholic and Muslim countries, who believe that sex education encourages premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases, and others who insist that lack of education puts youths more at risk.

“It’s a good compromise, because it balances the desire of parents to have a strong role and acknowledges disparate cultural traditions while protecting young people’s right to confidential services,” said Ruth Archibald, a Canadian delegate who headed the group’s debate.

Delegates from Africa, worried about the rapid spread of AIDS among young people there, were instrumental in creating consensus.

“Half of those exposed to the HIV virus are under 25,” said conference Secretary General Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania.

The issue of parental rights was expected to be a major sticking point at the conference as discussions stretched out over five days. But Egyptian delegate Merwat Tallawy, chairwoman of the main subcommittee on health issues, brought discussion to a close on Monday evening with a bang of her gavel.

“Accepted,” she said, to cheers from most of the delegates.

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