My Lords, the UK was delighted to co-host the London Summit on Family Planning yesterday, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and participants from all over the world. UK support will provide access to family planning for an additional 24 million women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy. The UK is doubling its efforts on family planning to an average of £180 million a year between now and 2020.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Clearly, we would all welcome the summit yesterday and congratulate the Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on their efforts and welcome the commitments that were made globally as a result. All the contraception and family planning in the world would not have helped two girls whom I met in Liberia, who were 15 year-old mothers, one of whom had been raped during the conflict and the other sold by her impoverished family for sex. Those girls need more than access in some city or town elsewhere to family planning and contraception; they need more power over their own lives and an end to violence and conflict.
Will the Government, alongside the commitments made yesterday, continue to make efforts, first to combat sexual violence internationally but also to deal with the issues of conflict that can give rise to these impacts for so many young girls and women in so many countries?
The noble Lord is right. I thank him for his congratulations. For me, it was an incredibly optimistic conference; I was extremely glad to see the wide range of commitments that were being made, which addressed not only the financial need to make sure that access is there and available but also the kind of social and cultural concerns that he just flagged up. It is extremely important that women and girls have the chance to choose whether they are to have children and how they might space them—and it is important for the mothers, too. In the case that he mentioned, it would probably have helped if the mother herself had more control over her life, which then would have impacted on her own child.
Is my noble friend aware of reports from Nigeria of rural family planning clinics closing down through lack of resources for service delivery? Will these very welcome new plans include investment in long-term recruitment, training and employment of sufficient health workers who are dedicated to family planning service delivery as well as the provision of family planning commodities?
It is extremely important that the infrastructure is there as well and Nigeria made a major commitment yesterday. Hearing some of the speakers from developing countries was very encouraging. For example, the Malawi health Minister said, “No parenthood before adulthood”. That is extremely important and its delivery is absolutely key.
The United Kingdom is committed to the support of family planning in the UK. There should be, and is, comprehensive access to contraceptive services and supplies across the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, is quite right that education and information is important here as well as in developing countries.
My Lords, I add my congratulations on the summit yesterday which made some extremely interesting and innovative proposals. Since no one would deny that there is a large gap between policy and practice on equality in many of the countries represented at yesterday’s summit, was the need to enshrine sexual and reproductive health and rights in law discussed? For instance, South Africa has it in its constitution, as do Guyana and other countries. Was the need for laws to ban child marriage raised? Many countries have laws which permit marriage under 18 and, indeed, it is legal for a girl to marry at 15, which is a breach of the convention on discrimination against women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Were these important and critical issues discussed at the summit?
These issues were discussed. In fact, I heard the Malawian delegation saying that they would be committing to raising the legal age of marriage to 18—that is above ours. People were acutely aware of the challenges here and the number of girls as young as 12, 13 and 14 who are having their first children and trying to delay that.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised the question of drawing the importance of family planning to the attention of young girls. Surely the question arises equally in relation to young men. Much more pressingly for our society as a whole, how about telling them about the importance of families themselves?
The role of boys and men was also discussed. I was on a panel yesterday with a very impressive young man from Togo who was involved in this. When his brother died of AIDS, his family, who in the earlier stages had opposed what he had done, then took him to task for not having said enough.