Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Members of Congress

The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We are a short time away from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children (Children’s Summit) that will be held in New York City May 5, 2002- May 10, 2002. This summit will have a profound impact on the reproductive rights and sexual health of young people around the world. The global community is confronted with serious health problems that severely affect our youth, such as HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy, and nations must work together to help address these issues. We hope that you will join with us in protecting children -- both in our own country and around the world -- by demonstrating the United States’ commitment to work with other nations towards effective solutions, and by supporting a Summit outcome that will improve the health and lives of children globally.

The world now contains one billion young people, a majority of whom face a future rife with poverty, violence and health epidemics. Decisions regarding their reproductive health will shape the quality of life on this planet for generations to come. Adolescent reproductive health has a significant impact upon the economic and educational opportunities of young people. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive reproductive health information and services can be harmful, if not deadly. In many cases, adolescent girls in particular are subject to coercion, discrimination and violence, profoundly impacting their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The facts are appalling and call for sufficient resources to implement immediate, effective remedies. More than 1.8 million adolescents in Latin America and 4.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa give birth each year. Young women ages 15-19 are twice as likely to die from pregnancy- related causes as women in their early twenties. Worldwide, young people ages 10-24 account for 2.6 million new HIV infections each year -- five new infections every minute and 7,000 every day. The United Nations estimates that 11.8 million young people are living with HIV/AIDS, 62 percent of which are adolescent girls. An estimated 130 million girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), and two million per year are at risk. Millions of children in the United States and worldwide face rape and sexual violence. We are deeply troubled by this harsh reality, which jeopardizes the lives of millions of young people. Adolescents have the right to sexual and reproductive health information and services in order to reduce their vulnerability to these problems.

During the 1994 International Conference on Populations and Development (ICPD), the world community, including the United States, reached consensus in support of reproductive health services for adolescents. The ICPD Programme of Action affirms "the rights of adolescents to reproductive health education, information and care" (ICPD, para 7.46); and calls on countries to "safeguard the rights of adolescents to privacy, confidentiality, respect and informed consent" (ICPD, para 7.45). It also recognizes the rights and duties of parents and guardians "to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capabilities of the adolescent, appropriate direction and guidance in sexual and reproductive matters" (ICPD, para 7.45). Furthermore, in 1999 at the five year review of ICPD, the United States reaffirmed that governments should provide adolescents with "appropriate, specific, user friendly and accessible services to address effectively their reproductive and sexual health needs, including reproductive health education, information, counseling and health promotion strategies" (ICPD+5, para.73(a)).

In light of the United States’ agreement to protect adolescents’ reproductive health and rights at these international conferences, the U.S. should continue this commitment throughout the Children’s Summit. We strongly encourage you to uphold these principles in order to ensure a brighter tomorrow for the world’s children.


Louise M. Slaughter, Member of Congress

James Greenwood, Member of Congress

Connie Morella, Member of Congress

Diana DeGette, Member of Congress