US to Drop Funding for UN Body Behind Millions in Aid

The U.S. has pulled its support for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), potentially affecting millions of dollars worth of aid to government ministries and NGOs in Cambodia previously earmarked to improve family planning and reproductive health.

According to the UNFPA’s website, the U.S. was its fourth biggest donor in 2015—after the U.K., transfers between U.N. bodies and Sweden—contributing more than $75 million out of $979 million in total contributions to the agency for the year.

Former US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, center, speaks to reporters at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh last year. (US Embassy)

The UNFPA announced the change in a statement on Tuesday, saying it “regrets the decision by the United States to deny any future funding for its life-saving work the world over.”

The agency is a major financer to aid programs in more than 150 countries. Of the funds it sent to Cambodia in 2015, more than $3.2 million—accounting for 74.2 percent of the UNFPA’s expenses in the country—was focused on sexual and reproductive health, family planning, maternal health and HIV/AIDS. Some programs were implemented by the UNFPA itself, while others were implemented by the government or local NGOs.

According to the Council for Development of Cambodia’s online database, the UNFPA is currently funding at least nine ongoing projects, many aimed at strengthening government services and policies.

One project listed on the site promises the Education Ministry $85,309 this year for a “Comprehensive Sexuality Education Integration Programme” for teenagers and youths. Another—with a total budget of $2 million over two years—is to help the Health Ministry with family planning and “preventing and ending violence against women and girls.”

Ros Sopheap, executive director of gender equality NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, said UNFPA funding was vital in the country considering the government’s comparative lack of funding to sexual and reproductive health.

“This is a worry for women advocating gender equality—this is going to be a big issue,” she said. “The younger generation is coming up right now and that service is really needed.”

A spokeswoman for the UNFPA’s Cambodian office did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the UNFPA statement, the U.S. made its decision based on an “erroneous claim” that the agency supported involuntary sterilization in China.

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