The Executive Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has approved a new $27 million, five-year programme of assistance to China.Delegates advocating the measure called agency a “force for good” that promotes and protects human rights.Ten European countries that provide most of UNFPA’s funding said that the agency’s support to China has played “a crucial and catalytic role. … It successfully demonstrates that a client-oriented quality of care approach to reproductive health and family planning is a viable alternative to a target-driven administrative system.”This praise “implicitly repudiating a claim that the Fund abets coercive practices,” UNFPA said in a news release. In a statement on their behalf by the United Kingdom, the countries declared: “unequivocally…in our view, UNFPA’s activities in China, as in the rest of the world, are in strict conformity with the unanimously adopted Programme of Action of the ICPD” – a reference to the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. That landmark meeting clearly placed the rights of people at the heart of population activities, as opposed to numerical targets.UNFPA’s work plays “a key role in supporting our common endeavour, the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the United Kingdom delegate said, speaking also for Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. The 10 European countries aligned themselves with the statement by South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77—a coalition of 132 developing countries and territories—which also strongly endorsed UNFPA’s work in China.“In geographical areas where UNFPA is working, the client-centered service not only provided choices to many ordinary people, particularly women, but also improved the reproductive health situation in these areas,” the Group of 77 stated.“The programme has contributed to the improvement of reproductive health and family planning services, strengthened the capacity of family planning workers and has enhanced the access of women to quality services and informed choices.”The Fund will continue to give priority in 2006-2010 to reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, concentrating its assistance in 30 Chinese counties that have experimented with ways to improve services and give clients control over reproductive decisions. During the last country programme, China adopted national standards that incorporate approaches used in the UNFPA counties, including the removal of birth targets and quotas.After UNFPA-supported counties lifted birth-spacing requirements, four provinces followed suit. Others are considering similar moves. The Fund has pledged continued efforts to strongly advocate for a rights-based approach and an end to coercion.The sixth country programme will also support the development of policies to address population ageing and gender-related concerns, including the imbalance in the country’s sex ratio at birth. At last week’s first regular session for 2006, the 36-member UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board also approved new country programmes for Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Chad, Georgia, Ghana, Indonesia, Namibia, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Peru, Swaziland, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine and Viet Nam.