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United Nations: Socio-Economic Impact of Africa’s Demographic Shift Highlighted As Population and Development Commission Concludes Debate


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The Commission on Population and Development today wrapped up its general debate on the implications of changing age structures, with African delegations highlighting the socio-economic impacts of the continent’s dramatic demographic shifts and a keynote speaker who challenged the United Nations to boost investment in Africa’s young people.

Botswana’s representative, who kicked off the debate, noted that while Africa had the world’s largest share of young people, it was also troubled by a plethora of problems -- hostile climates, hunger, poverty, conflict and war –- that not only undermined the welfare of African children, but threatened the future of the entire continent. Botswana’s changing age structure has resulted in several specific development challenges, including youth unemployment and an increasing number of female-headed households.

Further, he added, while Botswana was working very hard to improve the quality of life of its people, HIV/AIDS had dealt a setback to its development efforts. A three-pronged approach to reduce HIV infection by 75 per cent focused on the prevention of new infection, treatment and care for people living with the disease and managing the epidemic. This year, the Government would spend some $136 million on activities to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS. In addition, Botswana was also reviewing its population policy to give sharper focus to assistance to child-headed households and provide social safety nets for children and the elderly.

Ghana’s representative said fertility and mortality were declining steadily in her country, and the interplay between the two had resulted in a steady change in the populations’ age structure. Currently, large numbers of young people were entering the labour force without corresponding job opportunities, resulting in high youth unemployment. The situation was further worsened by limited higher education facilities that could not absorb larger numbers of students coming out of the basic and secondary schools. A new phenomenon of migration of young people to other countries was posing another challenge, she added.

The growing number of older persons posed new challenges in providing for their social security, health and welfare, she said. The once-adored extended family system was gradually disintegrating and old age was becoming a nightmare.

To address such concerns, the Government had revised its population policy to include issues on older persons, as well as highlighting issues on young people. While urging Governments to boost budgetary allocations to population programmes, she called on development partners and the wider international community to back implementation of the Maputo Plan of Action on safe motherhood and the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, among others. Demographic transition should not be considered only in terms of numbers, but more importantly, as providing resources to support programmes that would improve the quality of life of all, she said.

In a keynote address on the challenges faced by Africa’s young population, Nyovani Madise, Senior Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi (APHRC), Kenya, said that African youth, and all the world’s youngsters, had the greatest potential for both accepting and effecting change. That capacity to adapt and successfully overcome the challenges posed by globalization, disease, poverty and other social ills, could become a major driver of socio-economic growth, she said.

Indeed, healthy and educated young people were Africa’s greatest asset and investing in them would yield great benefits for the continent, Ms. Madise said, kicking off a detailed PowerPoint presentation that compiled the results of her research on the effects of HIV/AIDS, poor health services and lack of education on Africa’s youth. Noting the high HIV-prevalence rates among young people, and the fact that more than 25 per cent of African girls started bearing children by age 19, she said it was important to promote not just family planning services, but a synergistic response that combined HIV services and family planning.

A similar synergistic approach was needed in the area of education, just as in health, she said, stressing that education should be made affordable to all, and that serious efforts needed to be undertaken to boost attendance for female children. It was clear that information led to behavioural change, so young people needed programmes that promoted general learning, combined with skills development training and sex education. Finally, she challenged the Commission, the wider United Nations and the international community to invest in Africa’s children and young people.

Also today, the Commission Chairman, Muhammad Ali Sorcar ( Bangladesh), made a brief statement on the ongoing reform of the Economic and Social Council, and urged the members of the Commission, which is one of the Council’s functional bodies, to consider how it might strengthen its contribution to the work of the reformed Council.

In other business today, the Commission heard presentations on several reports of the Secretary-General relating to the work of the session. Vasantha Kandiah, Assistant Director, Population Division, introduced the report on World Population Trends (document (E/CN.9/2007/6). Armindo Miranda, Senior Population Affairs Officer, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced two documents related to the Population Division’s work, namely a report on the Division’s activities in 2006 (document E/CN.9/2007/7) and a note by the Secretariat containing the Division’s draft programme of work for 2008-2009 (document E/CN.9/2007/8).

Also participating in the Commission’s work today were the representatives of Benin, Netherlands, United States, Morocco and Haiti.

The representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also spoke, as did representatives of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).

A representative of the American Association of Retired Persons also addressed the Commission.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m., Friday, 13 April to conclude its fortieth session.

Background

When the Commission on Population and Development met today, it was expected to conclude its general debate, discuss organizational matters and begin its consideration of programme implementation and the Secretariat’s future programme of work in the field of population. The Commission was also expected to hear a keynote address entitled “Investing in the future: addressing the challenges faced by Africa’s young population”.

Statements

SAMUEL O. OUTLULE ( Botswana) noted that changing demographic trends in Africa were as much about population as they were about development. Africa had the largest share of young people in the world today. Yet, the continent was confronted by a plethora of problems that not only undermined the welfare of African children, but also the continent’s future in general. Apart from hostile climate conditions, hunger, poverty and disease, Africa contended with the social dislocations caused by conflict and war. Migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons were a critical factor in the evolving demographic trends in Africa. Population and development was about international development, cooperation and partnership. Most importantly, it was a call on Governments to assume greater responsibility for their people’s development.

To deal with the challenges of population growth, it was necessary to implement the outcome of the various United Nations conferences and summits in the social and economic field, he said. Those commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals, provided a realistic template for a better future for succeeding generations. While Botswana was working very hard to improve the quality of life of its people, HIV/AIDS had been a setback to its development efforts. A three-pronged approach to reduce HIV infection by 75 per cent focused on the prevention of new infection, treatment and care for people living with the disease and managing the epidemic. This year, the Government would spend some $136 million on activities to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS. Botswana’s age structure was faced with several development challenges, including youth unemployment and an increasing number of female-headed households. Botswana was reviewing its population policy to deal with such challenges, including by giving sharper focus to assistance to child-headed households and provision of social safety nets for children and the elderly.

LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Observer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that migration was increasingly intersecting with national concerns about low fertility and population ageing, as well as with unemployment, human rights, social integration, xenophobia and national security. Those concerns, separately and together, had, over the past few years, led to a major re-examination of international migration policies and to an increased focus on the potential benefits and disadvantages accruing to both origin and destination countries.

In order for international migration to respond to those challenges, migration practices must reflect broad and far-sighted policies, he said, stressing that, while the current era of globalization had led to freer movement of goods and services, migration policies had become more restrictive. Still, IOM had recognized that the debate on the necessity of readjusting such restrictive policies was at least beginning to get under way, even if only from a temporary labour migration perspective. To that end, the Government should not overlook the long-lasting and potentially positive effects that temporary labour migration could have in places where there was a labour force demand, as well as in countries which had an abundance of workers.

International migration could inject a vibrant and educated workforce into countries that needed them, and could ease economic tensions by helping sustain pension systems, he said. Ageing populations also demanded labour-intensive care and assistance that might not be available when birth rates were falling and the workforce was declining. When the labour demands of caring for an elderly population could not be met from domestic sources, immigration could be part of the solution. But, to be effective in meeting those specific labour demands, and to ensure a safe and humane labour mobility process, proper migration management polices needed to be put into place. The risks of irregular migration, particularly trafficking and smuggling, were high when migration policies did not reflect real labour market needs and real-world migratory patterns.

DJANKOU NDJONKOU, of the International Labour Organization (ILO), noted that, in many countries, longer life expectancy had not been accompanied by longer working lives. Average retirement ages had dropped, posing a threat to the financial viability of public budgets and, as a result, older people risked being socially excluded. Many older persons who would like to work longer were discriminated against and forced to leave the labour market prematurely or move to low-quality jobs. The inability of many to address the growing population of youth seeking employment threatened to undermine development. There was much debate about the impact of ageing on social security financing. While high-income countries faced the challenge of ensuring the sustainability of social protection systems, the main challenge for low-income countries was to extend social security coverage to the most vulnerable groups. The promotion of decent work was the best way to ensure social protection for all and to allow older age groups the possibility of remaining active longer.

That was particularly crucial for developing countries where poverty among older populations was an increasing concern, and few older people could afford retirement, he said. In those countries, it was essential to find ways of extending social security, with attention to appropriate labour market policies for older workers. The challenges of demographic change were common to all countries, yet each would find different strategies to address them. Those strategies should aim to strengthen the role of social security as a productive factor in promoting employment, stimulating structural change and fostering economic growth. Another area of concern was the situation of migrant workers falling outside the realm of social protection, and thereby lacking access to pension schemes and adequate health services.

Due regard should also be given to providing an adequate working environment for older workers, including the elimination of unsafe and unhealthy conditions, he said. Productive and decent work was the most powerful lever to maintain and extend social protection at all stages of life.

BERTIN BABADOUDOU ( Benin) said his delegation believed that the benefits and challenges of shifting age structures differed greatly within regions and between countries inside those regions. Benin, which had a relatively large youth population, was establishing support programmes for that sector early, so that young people could contribute to socio-economic development throughout their lifetimes.

How could those youth be prepared to actively contribute to society when the country began to age, if they were not supported and provided every opportunity to succeed today? he asked. Poverty and underdevelopment would not stop Benin from reaping the benefits of the current demographic phenomenon. Yet, while the Government was doing its part, he called on the international community, particularly the United Nations and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to help it design effective and realistic policies and programmes.

TO HIRONAKA, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), described UNESCO’s activities in response to the major demographic changes the world was currently facing. UNESCO had noted the Secretary-General’s report on population ageing, particularly the fact that Europe was the major region with the highest proportion of older persons. In response to that trend, UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformation (MOST) programme had identified ageing as a priority for Europe and North America. The programme aimed at finding synergy between academic research and policy choices. The MOST programme also promoted a culture of evidence-based policymaking. Research on ageing was indispensable, both for its own sake and to provide a basis for policy selection. UNESCO was well situated to assist policymakers and researchers achieve better coordination in regard to ageing.

LINE VREVEN, representative of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), said that the relevant reports before the Commission revealed the fact that population ageing was one of the most significant global trends impacting individuals in both the developed and developing worlds. The AARP and its international outreach and research division were keenly aware that, in order to formulate consistent, effective and appropriate policies, Governments could not take a narrow approach when addressing the issue. All countries were becoming older, but Governments must look at the changing structures of their societies and examine the effects on all age groups. Only then could everyone understand the impact of the trends in population ageing and formulate the policies that would enhance the quality of life for all persons as they aged.

She said that much had been written about the coming “age wave” of baby boomers and the fact that these would enter into retirement over the next few decades and put enormous financial pressure on health and retirement systems. AARP believed, however, that, ultimately, countries would be able to cope with the pressures that longevity would bring to bear on social protection systems and seize the opportunity for new growth and involvement. AARP also believed that there were important lessons to be learned for countries that experienced similar or even accelerated trends, like the Asian region, in the future.

ESTHER Y. APEWOKIN ( Ghana) said fertility and mortality were declining steadily in her country. The interplay between the two had resulted in a steady change in the populations’ age structure. Although Ghana was going through a demographic transition, the process was slow and did not offer adequate activities for the demographic bonus. Large numbers of young people were entering the labour force without corresponding job opportunities, resulting in high youth unemployment. A new phenomenon of migration of young people to other countries was posing another challenge. The increasing number of women entering reproductive age posed another concern. The growing number of older persons posed new challenges in providing for their social security, health and welfare. The once adored extended family system was gradually disintegrating and old age was becoming a nightmare.

To address such concerns, the Government had revised its population policy to include issues on older persons, as well as highlighting issues on young people, she said. In the area of education, the Education Sector Reform Policy was promoting free compulsory basic education. The National Youth Employment Programme aimed to equip young people with employable skills. To benefit from the demographic bonus, it was necessary to reduce the country’s high maternal mortality levels. In that regard, the Government had introduced free ante-natal and delivery services in public health facilities throughout the country. To improve the welfare of older persons, the Government had developed a draft policy on the elderly. While she urged Governments to increase budgetary allocation to population programmes, she also called on development partners and the international community at large to fully support the implementation of the Maputo Plan of Action on safe motherhood, the Madrid Plan of Action, the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, and other international initiatives. The demographic transition should not be considered only in terms of numbers, but, more importantly, as providing resources to support programmes that would improve the quality of life of all segments of the population.

Reform of the Economic and Social Council

Commission Chairman MUHAMMAD ALI SORCAR ( Bangladesh) then made a brief statement on the ongoing reform of the Economic and Social Council, and urged the members of the Commission, which is one of the Council’s functional bodies, to consider how it might strengthen its contribution to the work of the reformed Council. He said that the process was being guided by the General Assembly, which, in its resolution 61/16 (2006), had set out concrete steps to strengthen the Economic and Social Council. The changes introduced by that text, among other things, aimed to increase the effectiveness of the Council in promoting the implementation and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.

To that effect, the General Assembly had decided to add two key components to the Council’s annual high-level segment; namely, an annual ministerial-level review and a biennial development cooperation forum. The high-level segment would also include the annual high-level dialogue with international financial and trade institutions, and a discussion on a theme annually chosen by the Council. He said that the forum would be launched this year at the Council’s substantive session in Geneva, and, from 2008, it would be held on alternate years in New York.

That forum would review trends and progress in international development cooperation, give policy guidance and recommendations to promote more effective international development cooperation, identify gaps and obstacles to realizing internationally agreed development goals and make recommendations to address them. He said that the annual ministerial review would be conducted using a cross-sectoral approach and focusing on thematic issues common to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits and in achieving globally agreed development goals. The Economic and Social Council had urged the functional commissions to contribute to such an assessment, in accordance with their respective mandates. To permit those contributions, the Council would establish a multi-year programme of work for the ministerial reviews, he added.

He told the Commission that, last month, the Council had decided to hold its 2007 thematic discussion on “strengthening efforts at all levels to promote pro-poor sustained economic growth, including through equitable macroeconomic policies”, and that the ministerial review would discuss “strengthening efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, including through the global partnership for development”. Two reports would be prepared as inputs –- one for the Council’s thematic discussion and another for both the Development Cooperation Forum and the ministerial review. Those documents were expected to include an analysis of progress made so far, the identification of obstacles to implementation and recommendations on how to overcome them.

Work of Population Division

ARMINDO MIRANDA, Senior Population Affairs Officer, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced two documents related to the Population Division’s work, namely the Secretary-General’s report on the Division’s activities in 2006 (document E/CN.9/2007/7) and a note by the Secretariat containing the Division’s draft programme of work for 2008-2009 (document E/CN.9/2007/8).

Highlighting aspects of the division’s work in the past year, he noted that in the area of fertility and family planning studies, the Division had prepared a report entitled “Childlessness: A Global Survey”. Although childlessness was generally higher in developed countries, where in some countries up to one in every five women aged 40 to 44 was childless, it was also moderately high in South America, Central America and South-East Asia. In the area of mortality and health, the Division continued to review the methods needed to estimate levels and trends of adult mortality in developing countries, proposing methodological improvements to obtain more timely estimates on age-specific mortality and life expectancy for as many countries as possible. Regarding population estimates and projections, the Division had produced the flagship publication, “World Population Prospects”, every two years.

On the issue of international migration, he noted that, in 2006, the General Assembly had conducted, for the first time in its history, a High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, a major event that had been substantively supported by the Division. Given the increasing importance of activities related to international migration, almost one third of the report was devoted to the numerous outputs of the High-Level Dialogue and its preparatory process.

The second report, he continued, contained the programme narrative of the population subprogramme approved by the Assembly in resolution 61/235, as well as information on the proposed outputs for 2008-2009. The Commission was invited to take note of the programme narrative and to review the proposed outputs to be submitted to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Assembly at its sixty-second session.

VASANTHA KANDIAH, Assistant Director, Population Division, then introduced the Secretary-General’s report on World Population Trends (document (E/CN.9/2007/6), which presents an overview of demographic trends based on the results of the 2004 Revision of World Population Prospects. She noted that the 2006 Revision had been released last month and that, while that survey projected a 2050 world population slightly higher than the earlier report –- 9.2 billion as opposed to 9.1 billion -- general population trends were very similar. The world’s current population stood at about 6.6 billion and the projected increase of about 2.5 billion people by 2050 was expected to take place almost exclusively in the less developed regions of the world.

She added that future fertility levels were key determinants of the expected population growth in developing countries. Fertility rates had declined almost everywhere since 1950. There was growing recognition among developing countries that the further reduction of population growth was necessary to ease mounting pressure on renewable and non-renewable resources, and on the environment, and to facilitate the achievement of all major development goals. High fertility tended to be associated with low contraceptive prevalence. In Africa, where fertility was still very high, with an average of 4.7 children per woman, contraceptive prevalence was only 27 per cent among currently married women, much lower than the average for less developed regions as a whole, which stood at 59 per cent among currently married women.

As a result of declining fertility and, to a lesser extent, lower mortality, there were large ongoing changes in population age structures worldwide, she said. In particular, the number of people aged 60 years or over was expected to increase from 0.7 billion in 2007 to almost 2 billion in 2050. Large regional contrasts existed. In Europe, the older population had outnumbered children since 1995 and there would be twice as many older persons as children in 2050. Population ageing was also taking place in developing countries, particularly in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa was the exception, with a population that was still young and where the main concern regarding age composition referred to the very large proportion of children, particularly in countries where fertility had not yet started to decline. International migration continued to increase, with an estimated 191 million international migrants in the world in 2005, most of them living in the developed countries. Together with increased international migration, urbanization continued to spread.

Concluding, she said the world was in the midst of an era of dynamic population change, reflected in new and diverse patterns of childbearing, mortality, population ageing, international migration and urbanization. The consequences of those population trends presented opportunities and raised challenges for all societies as the twenty-first century continued to unfold.

Keynote Address

NYOVANI MADISE, Senior Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Nairobi, Kenya, then opened the Commission’s discussion on “Investing in the Future: Addressing the Challenges Faced by Africa’s Young Population”, saying that African youth, and all the world’s young people, had the greatest potential for change -- both for accepting and effecting change. She said that healthy and educated young people were Africa’s greatest asset and investing in them would yield great benefits for the continent. She challenged the Commission, the wider United Nations and the international community to invest in Africa’s children and young people. Africa’s youth boom had been fuelled by high fertility, with the average number of children per woman now at about 5.5, compared to a global average of around 2 or 3 children per family.

She said that, historically, African infants and babies had high disease and mortality burdens. While older children had a lower burden, that trend had been changing due to ill reproductive health, teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. In addressing the issue, she said it was important to recognize that young people were sexually active, but that they were ill protected against the consequences. Indeed, across the continent, about 50 per cent of sexually active boys and girls did not use condoms or any form of contraception. Further, statistics showed that many mothers under the age of 20 would have wanted to give birth later or not at all. In Ghana, for instance, a survey of 58 underage mothers showed that 37 had wanted to give birth later and 21 had not wanted to give birth at all.

The HIV statistics were equally troubling. She said that, by 2030, some 62.4 per cent of the deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 29 would be due to HIV, while some 38.6 per cent of men in that age group would succumb to the virus. Indeed, among young people, the HIV-prevalence rate was 3 to 1, female to male. Pointing to the high HIV-prevalence rates and the fact that more than 25 per cent of African girls started bearing children by age 19, she said it was important to promote not just family planning services, but a synergistic response that combined HIV services and family planning. Governments should make sure that, if young people chose to be sexually active, they had a healthy and informed sex life.

Turning to the issue of education, she said that education had intrinsic value in itself, but was also a key determinant of health, population change -- fertility, mortality and migration -- and economic development. Young people, therefore, needed opportunities for schooling. Statistics showed that 74 per cent of children between the ages of 6 and 10 attended school when there was free primary education, while only 59 per cent attended school when the service was not free. She also said that gender differences persisted, especially in secondary education.

She reiterated that education needed to be made affordable to all, and serious efforts needed to be undertaken to boost attendance for female children. A synergistic approach was needed in education, just as in health. It was clear that information led to behavioural change, so young people needed programmes that promoted general learning, combined with skills development training and sex education. On the links among education, health and population, she said that her studies had shown that better educated women had better nutritional statuses and, among other things, more regularly took advantage of health facilities, including delivery, immunization and curative services.

Interactive Discussion

In two rounds of questions following the presentation, speakers asked for clarification on the links between policies and investments in education and health, especially given the financial implications of free education. Questions were also raised regarding the role of the family, culture and religion in terms of investments for the future. Other questions included the links between education and mortality, and education and migration, as well as the appropriate age for sex education. One speaker asked if investments in education would result in a greater need for job creation.

Responding, Ms. MADISE agreed that she had not spoken of policy implications. The payoff for investments would be significant. While resources would be needed to invest in health and education, in the long term, the gains to the development of the family, the nation and the world would outweigh the sacrifices in terms of investment. It was also necessary to look at the issue of globalization and how the world was becoming smaller. The challenges faced by Africa would have implications for the world as a whole. On the issue of education and migration, she did not believe that investments in education would result in increased migration. Migration would always exist. It was necessary to look at the issue in a broader perspective. Providing education would make countries more competitive and would not encourage migration.

On the role of the family, she said Governments could not act alone. Investing in young people included a range of stakeholders. One could not talk about education and health in isolation from the environment in which young people lived. Families had a responsibility to ensure equitable access to schooling. Education alone would not change child survival rates without the necessary health infrastructure.

Regarding the issue of cultural norms and practices, she said cultural factors were important. Promoting change that enabled young people to be healthy meant doing away with harmful practices, such as early marriage. Culture needed to be looked at and promoted in order to create an enabling environment. Where practices where harmful, they needed to be addressed. A one-syllabus approach to sex education would be a mistake, as young people had different needs and required different information. On the link between education and jobs, she said there was a need to talk about “working smarter” and creating ways of being more economically productive.

Statement

SUZIE JOHANNE BEAUCHAMPS ( Haiti), Chief of the Social Statistics Division at the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Information, said that her country’s population was quite dense, with an annual growth rate of about 2.5 per cent. Some 26 per cent of the population was under the age of 15, which made it one of the “youngest” countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. She noted that statistics had shown that the percentage of older persons in Haiti had been increasing, particularly among women. With that in mind, the Government had begun to recognize that its relevant policies should address the needs of both the youth and senior segments of society. Demographic ageing, which was affecting all countries in the world, was challenging traditional resources and care-giving mechanisms in the developing world.

She said that Governments in developing countries had yet to design appropriate and effective policies and programmes to address this phenomenon. While growing older in countries like Haiti was generally considered a source of esteem, it was also true that most older persons lived in isolation and were largely absent from the policymaking agenda. Programmes needed to be tailored to older persons, and community-level actors needed to be trained to deal with issues unique to the elderly, such as specific diseases or violence, particularly against older women. For its part, Haiti had been actively working to realistically address population concerns, while also pursuing sustainable development. At the same time, the social protection and services for older persons needed to be bolstered. The Government was also working with international agencies to strengthen the national health-care systems, particularly in the area of maternal health, she added.



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