April 23, 2007 / 10:46 AM / 12 years ago

Family planning key to Afghan maternal deaths - U.N.

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate of one dead mother for every 60 births would be brought down if mothers spaced their pregnancies, a family planning principle enshrined in Islam, a U.N. official said on Monday.

Supporting women and girls and ensuring their right to education, health, work and a life free of violence is one of the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan’s development, said U.N. undersecretary-general Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

“Afghan women have among the highest deaths as a result of pregnancy and complications in the world,” Obaid, who is also executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, told a news conference.

“One mother dies for every 60 births. In some provinces, the rate is much higher.”

Bringing the toll down means ensuring trained birth attendants are present, emergency hospital care is available and family planning, she said.

Obaid, a Muslim from Saudi Arabia, said people had to understand that family planning was not against the rules of Islam.

“The principle of family planning is well-enshrined in the Koran,” she said. “The Koran says that women should nurse for two years, it was a form of family planning.

“We are not talking about population control. We are talking about spacing, to have a number of years between one child and another.

Spacing allows a mother to regain her health before becoming pregnant again and also allows a family to devote more attention and resources to each child, she said.

“The right to health, the right to education, the right to income and the right to life — all of these can be achieved by planning one’s family.”

Maternal mortality rates were improving in Kabul, where some health services are available, but not in other parts of the country, Obaid said.

Obaid also said people had to understand that violence against women, which is pervasive in Afghanistan, was not proper under Islam.

“In all cultures, in all religions, but in particular in our own faith, women do have a special position,” she said.

“We need to get that knowledge out, so people understand that beating women or abusing women ... is not proper.”

“A proper Muslim does not beat his wife,” she said.

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