Pro-Life Youth Dominate U.N. Conference Print
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 29 July 2011

One of the great mug’s games of all time takes place every day at a place insiders call Turtle Bay along the East River in Manhattan. It is the place where international bureaucrats cajole and even coerce governments into telling the rest of us how to live our lives. One would think the place would be a beacon of democracy, transparency, and dialogue. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Earlier this week the United Nations convened a High Level Meeting on youth. This culminates a Year of Youth, which began last August with a conference in Leon, Mexico and will end August 12 with an International Day of Youth. Any time the U.N. announces a “year of” – well – anything, one ought to grab the kids, drain the bank account, and catch the first train out of town.

This “Year of Youth” is born from fear that the current massive global cohort of under-twenty-fives is going to have babies. The baby-boomlet of the baby-boomers is poised to begin marrying and mating, and they must be stopped.

The “year” got off to a shaky start with a Mexican-sponsored conference that diplomats considered confusing and even chaotic. The conference included a product expo for the kiddies that included sex toys and thong underwear. Keep in mind the U.N. defines youth as beginning at ten years old.

The “year” continued in a shaky fashion when no U.N. member state agreed to finance a global conference. It was supposed to be in Tunisia. The bureaucrats like to hold conferences in such places for two reasons: It makes it much harder for American pro-lifers to attend, and having it in a Muslim country makes it harder for Muslims to object to the final document, lest one of their own governments is embarrassed. But the United States refused to pony up the cash, as did Japan and other donor countries, so they were left with kind of a rump event at U.N. headquarters over two days earlier this week.

Pro-lifers knew something was up when, a few weeks before the event, most of them were disinvited. The U.N. said there would not be enough room since they were expecting such a huge crush of young people. And they certainly had to make room for all the kids International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) were expected to ship in.


Or perhaps they knew in advance what became apparent to everyone on opening day. Hardly anyone came. The NGO gallery during the plenary sessions, the sessions that were supposed to be packed to the rafters with kids, was nearly empty. It was clear the pro-lifers were disinvited because they would have outnumbered the IPPF kids.

Even so, an ad hoc group of pro-life students called the International Youth Coalition attended – a small but determined group of no more than fifty who had an outsized impact on the conference.

The IYCoalition, led by a dynamic twenty-three year-old, Tyler Ament, produced a ringing pro-life and pro-family document, the “Youth Statement to the U.N. and the World,” that was signed by 120,000 people from all over the planet, including 57,000 under the age of thirty. The document says quite sensibly that “young people are formed in the family,” that “man and woman are based in nature”, that “parents are the primary educators” of their children. All these are unremarkable statements except at the U.N. where they do not get a real hearing.

Even though pro-life youth were shut out from the plenary meetings, they fanned out around the building to engage their opponents wherever they found them, mostly in U.N. approved “side-events.”

       Tyler Ament

One brave young man questioned an IPPF spokesman about medical risks associated with contraceptive use. The speaker lost his cool, announced he was a “medical assistant” and did not like it when the uninformed sound off on medical matters. The well prepared pro-lifer responded that he was studying statistics at MIT and the information he provided came from the World Health Organization

At one event the technical director of UNFPA announced that governments had agreed to a new Millennium Development goal on reproductive health in 2005. He was approached by a pro-lifer who knows this stuff inside and out who asked, “how could this be when the head of UNFPA announced in 2007 that one had not yet been achieved?” The poor bureaucrat’s response was pure Ralph Kramden getting caught in a fib by Alice. “Homina, homina, homina.”

The thing is, these people think the U.N. is their house, and they feel quite comfortable in saying anything they want there. After all, who’s watching?

Well, plenty are watching. One UNFPA staff member was interviewing young people on camera. Upon discovering she was talking to yet another pro-life student, she exclaimed, “you people are everywhere.”

In the end, even though the powers that be fought to keep them out, pro-life youth made their voices heard. Their Youth Statement to the U.N. and the World was read into the record by a friendly delegation during one of the final plenary sessions. Young pro-lifers were all over the building talking to everyone they could. They dominated questions during panels. They even made unannounced visits to a number of U.N. delegations in their national missions scattered around New York City.

A small number of dedicated and fearless people can change the world. They can even change the U.N. After watching these brave young people work for only two days at U.N. headquarters, I now believe even that institution can be turned around. Some say youth is wasted on the young. Not me.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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