OTTAWA – A top United Nations official is praising the Harper government’s foreign policy initiative to end forced marriage of young girls, even if Canada won’t fund projects that would allow victims access to an abortion.
The Conservative government’s practice of not allowing aid dollars to go towards organizations that offer abortions to victimized girls or war-rape victims has sparked heated criticism in some quarters.
But a seasoned expert on international child protection said that doesn’t diminish Canada’s emerging international leadership on the issue because there are other ways for the government to make a difference in helping young girls.
“We’re trying to leave that off the table … we’re talking about everything but that, frankly,” Susan Bissell, associate director of the child protection branch of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in an interview from New York.
She called abortion funding “an obstacle to negotiate around” and said she is urging Canada to be the international standard bearer for a worthy cause that needs a champion.
Bissell was in Ottawa earlier this month and met with policy makers in the offices of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. She said she was struck by their deep understanding of the complexities of a problem that has health, justice and education components.