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Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Family Planning

Karim Abawi, GFMER, Switzerland


Family planning allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births, according to the World Health Organization WHO. Family planning is achieved through the use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of involuntary infertility. A woman’s ability to avoid, space and/or limit her pregnancies has a direct impact on her health and well-being as well as on the outcome of each pregnancy.

Family planning and the right to health

Family planning is an important health right for many reasons, as listed by WHO. For one, it decreases the health risks of an unintended pregnancy and abortion. In addition, family planning methods such as the male and female condoms prevent sexually transmitted infections. For people living with HIV, family planning is important for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Appropriately spacing between pregnancies reduces the infant mortality rate. Finally the possibility to plan a family enables people, particularly women, to actively participate in social and economic life.


According to the World Health Organization, around 222 million women around the world desire to delay or stop childbearing but do not have access to contraception.

Key events in the establishment of family planning rights

  • The United Nations International Conference on Human Rights in Tehran in 1968 marked the recognition of reproductive rights as a component of human rights. Article 16 of the Teheran proclamation stipulates: "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children”.
  • In the official statement resulting from the World Population Conference of Bucharest 1974, the World Population Plan of Action, the right to family planning was clearly stated in paragraph 14f: “All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have information and means to do so; the responsibility of couples and individuals in the exercise of this right takes into account the needs of their living and future children, and their responsibilities towards the community.” This right was reaffirmed in the International Conference on Population, which was held in Mexico in 1984.
  • In paragraph 7.12 of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, Cairo 1994) plan of action clearly states: “The aim of family-planning programmes must be to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to do so and to ensure informed choices and make available a full range of safe and effective methods (…) informed individuals everywhere can and will act responsibly in the light of their own needs and those of their families and communities(…)". At the ICPD, 179 countries agreed to take necessary steps to meet the family planning needs and provide universal access to safe family planning methods.


Despite significant progress in family planning services in different parts of the world the unmet need for contraception is still very high. The barriers to contraception and family planning differ from one context to another. They can be financial, geographical, cultural or religious. Barriers to family planning can also be specific for gender (women), age groups (adolescents) or civil status (unmarried people), limited choice of contraceptive methods, poor access to family planning services and fear of the contraceptives side effects.

Open access documents

GFMER documents