General Articles

World Summit Outcome Fails to Make Progress on Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

From September 14-16, over 175 heads of state gathered in New York for the World Summit at the United Nations. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the Summit to review progress and formulate critical next steps towards alleviating the most pressing problems of our times: poverty, HIV/AIDS, women’s oppression, and environmental degradation. Instead of tackling these on-going and intertwined disasters, however, the world leaders focused on politically loaded battles around UN restructuring and barely reaffirmed existing international agreements for a more just and peaceful world. Although young people are specifically mentioned in several places in the resulting outcome document, the language lacks truly actionable steps and seems tokenized.

Striving for the Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000, the UN’s General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration as a blueprint for reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. To realize this ambitious goal, the General Assembly articulated eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This Summit was supposed to review the progress toward achieving the MDGs.

The new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton (called “notoriously undiplomatic” and “Congressionally unacceptable”1) attempted to push the Summit participants to abandon the MDGs altogether. Advocates noted that he was clearly out of step with the purpose of the entire Summit , when he publicly complained that the document’s section on poverty was too long. He also called for each mention of the MDGs in the draft outcome document to be eliminated, calling into question a set of global aspirations long agreed upon by the rest of the international community.

In particular, he wrote that the U.S. “does not accept global aid targets,” referring to the 8 th MDG: “develop a global partnership for development,” which seeks to have wealthy nations commit 0.7% of national income to development assistance by 2015. The U.S., although the number one international donor in terms of value, is next to last among wealthy nations in terms of giving as a share of national income, spending only 0.16% of its gross domestic product on development.

These aggressive attacks on the outcome document caused schisms in the negotiations, forcing representatives to choose “what should be the higher priority—fighting terrorism or combating global poverty,” which really became “a question of who really holds the most power.”2

Failing to Prioritize Young People’s Needs

While there is a commitment to pay special attention to the human rights of children and to “undertake to advance them in every possible way,”3 real progress was sacrificed in the U.S.-instigated fights, and young people’s needs and rights were, like the rest of the anti-poverty agenda, inadequately addressed. The document recognizes that access to education is pivotal to poverty eradication and promises to support free primary education of good quality, with an eye to improving girls’ education particularly.4 No mention was made, however, of incorporating sexual and reproductive health education, including HIV-prevention education, into schools. Furthermore, young people in Africa are promised access to education and basic healthcare, but whether this includes sexual and reproductive health education and services is, again, unclear.5

In regards to HIV/AIDS, the heads of state mention young people explicitly only once, despite the fact they represent half of the new cases of HIV worldwide. They committed to “implementing measures to increase the capacity of adults and adolescents to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection.”6 What this means, however, is undefined.

The final agreement incorporates the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) into pre-existing development goals, including achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015.7 The language in the outcome document does not mention young people, but the ICPD does. In fact, ICPD pledges to ensure that information and services are available to adolescents “to help them understand their sexuality and protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and subsequent infertility.”8 While incorporating ICPD into the outcome document represents a win by women’s rights advocates, in terms of global progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights, it does not represent progress.

“It is a tragedy that the UN, advocates worldwide, and heads of state have expended so much time, energy, and resources to merely hold ground. Such a Herculean effort should have resulted in real progress to change the dire circumstances facing the world today,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. He continued, “specifically addressing the needs of young people, including their need for sexual and reproductive health, should have been at the forefront of the agenda. We have let them down, again.”

Although the heads of state committed to “to translating that consensus into concrete action, including addressing the root causes of those threats and challenges with resolve and determination,”9 advocates remain unsure whether this will indeed happen. As Hama Amadou, prime minister of Niger , explained, “we have heard many nice speeches and nice resolutions, but we remain deeply skeptical. Now is the time for action, not nice speeches.”10

For more information on the Millennium Development Goals and sexual and reproductive rights and health, please visit Family Care International:

For more information on donor country spending, please visit Population Action International:


  1. “The Lost U.N. Summit Meeting,” the New York Times, 14 September 2005, accessed 16 September.
  2. Bridget Kendall, No Single Vision for UN’s Future, BBC News, 15 September 2005, accessed 19 September 2005.
  3. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1, § 128 and 142.
  4. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1, § 44.
  5. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1, § 68 (b).
  6. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1, § 57 (b).
  7. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1, § 57 (g).
  8. Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, Egypt, 5-13 September 1994, para. 8.25, U.N. Doc.A/CONF.171/13/Rev.1 (1995), accessed 13 July 2005.
  9. 2005 World Summit Outcome (New York : The United Nations General Assembly, 2005), A/60/L.1.
  10. Richard Black, UN Reforms Receive Mixed Response, BBC News, 9 September 2005.