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US funding cut to UNFPA could be devastating for women

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (C) delivers a speech at the Hasan Sham camp on March 31, 2017, in the village of Hasan Sham, some 30 kilometres east of Mosul. UN chief Antonio Guterres called for protection of civilians to be the “absolute priority” as he visited Iraq, where hundreds of thousands are caught up in the battle for Mosul.

The US decision to cut funding to the UN Population Fund is based on an inaccurate perception and could be devastating for the health of women and girls worldwide, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.

President Donald Trump’s government announced late Monday that it was withdrawing its financial support because of UNFPA’s “coercive” family planning practices, including providing abortions.

Guterres deeply regrets the US decision and believes it could have “devastating effects on the health of vulnerable women and girls and their families around the world,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The UN chief believes the US decision is “based on an inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work done by UNFPA.”

The UN agency provides reproductive health and birth control services in more than 150 countries. Guterres said he had witnessed firsthand the “life-saving character” of its work during his years as UN refugee chief.

The UN chief appealed to donors to step in to fill the gap of $32.5 million for 2017 and allow the agency to continue to do its work.

It was the first cut in US funding to the United Nations promised by the Trump administration, which is also eyeing reducing support for UN peacekeeping and other agencies.

A US statement on Monday said the decision was “based on the fact that China’s family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization, and UNFPA partners on family planning activities with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies.”

UNFPA also vigorously pushed back against “erroneous” US charges that it plays a role in forced abortions and sterilizations in China.

“UNFPA refutes this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination,” it said in a statement on Monday.

“Indeed, United Nations Member States have long described UNFPA’s work in China as a force for good.”

The UN Population Fund is financed through voluntary contributions. In 2015, it received a total of $979 million from donors, with the United States providing the third biggest share, after Britain and Sweden.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog took a swipe at the US decision, telling reporters that UNFPA “save lives of women and girls around the world”.

Trump in January signed an executive order banning US federal funding for foreign organizations that support abortion, mirroring moves made by previous conservative-backed Republican administrations.

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