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Luke de Pulford: How much are we paying for girls to be aborted and women to be forcibly sterilised?

6a00d83451b31c69e2014e89a47ad0970d Luke de Pulford works for a homelessness charity in Canning Town, East London.

On Monday, Viscount Craigavon, a crossbench peer, will ask the government what priority they are giving in international development to "population issues".

Well, since 1997, the Department for International Development has spent at least £350 million pounds on international population control programmes. In 2009-10 alone they splashed out a minimum of £55 million, excluding funding streams I have been unable to detect due to incomprehensible Sir Humphreyesque verbiage that, for some reason, is a mandatory feature of all parliamentary answers on the subject.

£55 million is a lot of money. It’s the equivalent of 6111 university places at the new maximum rate, 137,500 days on a hospital bed, 859,375 weeks of the dole and the annual income of 305,555 Burundians.

Against a backdrop of crushing austerity, we had better be getting value for money. And enthusiasts argue that we are. They link the export of their favoured method of population control to the Millennium Development Goals: who could argue with that?

Certainly not Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, who made the improvement of “sexual and reproductive health rights, including access to modern family planning methods and promoting women's choice, in the developing world” one of the government’s “top priorities”.

So I can’t help but wonder what he makes of recent reports from India where the "choice" doctrine has been evangelised with a convert’s zeal. Over the last three decades, 12 million - yes, 12 million - girls have been aborted because their mothers wanted a boy: they "chose" to terminate because of gender. I wonder too whether it is the position of the government that a skewed ratio of males to females (117 boys to every 100 girls in India) is good or bad for economic development.

What’s worse is that 12 million barely scratches the surface of the grotesque edifice of sex selective abortion. Scientist Mara Hvistendahl has put the figure of girls targeted in the womb because they were unfortunate enough to be female at an overwhelming 160 million worldwide.

The government has rightly denounced the phenomenon (unlike abortion lobbyists and providers who maintain a chilling silence), and I’m not suggesting for a second that DFID intends our aid to be used in such a way. But perhaps Viscount Craigavon’s question offers an opportunity to reflect on what, besides massive gender imbalance, our penchant for exporting population control ideology has achieved for the developing world.

We need look no further than China, population controllers par excellence, where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. Great. What’s worse is the Chinese authorities have had to resort to human rights abuses to enforce the one child policy: forced abortion and sterilisation remain tragically commonplace in certain provinces. Scandalously, China continues to receive hefty support from the United Nations Population Fund which gets £20 million a year from DFID - and that is something they are aware of.

We might also look to the UNFPA’s own figures on population trends in less-developed countries which predict a sharp depreciation in the number of children per woman to an average of 2.50 by 2050.  That’s less than half what it is at the moment.

You don’t need to be an economist to work out the likely effects of a halved birth rate upon the economy of a developing country. It won’t be like the UK, where top-heavy demographics can be sustained for a while by reigning in the amount you spend on, say, public sector quangos. I doubt that, by 2050, beneficiaries of UK aid-funded population control programmes will be thanking us for cramming their fragile countries with Marie Stopes Clinics and other institutions that have a financial interest in ridding women of the children in their wombs.

The answer to Viscount Craigavon’s question is that the more we pump in to these institutions, the closer we come to imposing a Huxleyan dystopia upon the developing world. Hyperbole? Let's allow Marie Stopes herself the last word: “the sterilisation of those totally unfit for parenthood [should] be made an immediate possibility, indeed made compulsory”.


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