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United Nations: Population and Development Commission Urges Governments to Adjust Policies To Meet Challenges Posed By Changing Age Structures, As Session Ends


Recognizing that populations worldwide are undergoing a historically unique demographic transition –- rapidly ageing in some regions, shifting from high to low rates of birth and death in others –- the Commission on Population and Development today encouraged Governments to explore ways to boost education, health services and job opportunities for the young and old, and to adjust national policies to meet the socio-economic challenges posed by changing age structures.

Wrapping up its fortieth session with the consensus adoption of a wide-ranging Chairman’s text on changing age structures and their implications for development, the Commission recognized that the ongoing profound changes in the structure of world population offer a “window of opportunity”, particularly where both fertility and mortality are falling and the proportion of working-age adults is on the rise.

The resolution recognizes that translating that window of opportunity into benefits for development requires national policies and an international economic environment conducive to investment, employment and sustained economic development and further integration and full participation of developing countries in the global economy. The text urges Governments to provide young people opportunities for further education, for acquiring skills and for participating fully in all aspects of society, with a view to, among others, improving their productive employment and leading self-sufficient lives.

The text also recognizes that, while some countries are still experiencing high levels of fertility, population ageing is taking place at a much faster pace in developing countries, giving them less time to adjust to the increasing number of older persons, making it difficult to mobilize resources for their support. The Commission encourages Governments, the United Nations system and other relevant international organizations to assist developing countries in assessing the possible impact of changing population age structures and in building capacities to respond to the challenges and opportunities resulting from demographic shifts.

Inviting Governments to develop comprehensive strategies to meet the increasing demand for long-term care for older persons, the Commission also urges Governments to promote healthy living at all ages and in all spheres of health, in particular the improvement of maternal, child and adolescent health, as well as efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to take steps to prepare health-care systems to meet the challenges posed by changing age structures.

The Commission also invites Governments to address the rising rates of HIV/AIDS among young people to insure HIV-free future generation through the implementation of comprehensive evidence-based prevention strategies and responsible sexual behaviour. It also calls on Governments to take action to create an enabling environment at all levels to increase job market participation, including special efforts to boost the participation of women, older persons, youth and disadvantaged groups, such as long-term unemployed and persons with disabilities, in order to reduce the risk of exclusion or dependency in later life.

After the resolution’s adoption, Norway’s representative said the Commission had worked very hard to distil the discussions during the past week and set out the guidelines and recommendations reflected in the text. He reminded the Bureau that, at the conclusion of its thirty-ninth session, the Commission had adopted a resolution inviting members to consider, including among their delegations, those representatives with technical expertise in the areas under consideration “in order to maintain and enhance the quality and impact of the Commission’s debates”.

While it was common practice for diplomats and country representatives to negotiate texts and outcomes of the work of the United Nations bodies, it had become clear over the past week that delegations participating in the Commission’s work lacked sufficient technical expertise. Norway therefore hoped that the Bureau would remind Member States of that decision taken last year and that the Commission, whose work was valued because of the technical expertise it brought to critical debates on development, might be strengthened.

The representative of the United States said that her delegation was especially proud that the Commission had been able to complete its work efficiently and in a timely manner. She said that the United States supported the goals of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and its relevant Programme of Action. Her Government believed that the documents adopted at Cairo represented important political goals that the United States endorsed.

But that endorsement was with the understanding that, while the Plan of Action constituted an important framework for global action, it did not place rights or obligations on States under international law, she said. Neither did the United States consider that the ICPD documents constituted a change of position regarding treaties it had not ratified. The United States also considered that language and terminology in the documents and texts before the Commission relating to reproductive health did not create new rights or express support for abortion.

Germany’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, thanked the Commission for its work, and appreciated the flexibility shown during the negotiations on the text. The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, also applauded the Commission’s work and especially thanked Mr. Gass for his efforts over the past week.

The Commission wrapped up its work by adopting an oral draft decision setting the special theme for its forty-second session in 2009: “the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals”.

In other action, the Commission adopted the report of its fortieth session (document E/CN.9/2007/L.3), and approved the provisional agenda for its forty-first session (document E/CN.9/2007/L.2). It also took note of the relevant reports of the Secretary-General that delegations considered during the past week.

In closing remarks, Rogelio Fernandez-Castilla, Director of the Technical Support Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaking on behalf of UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid, said the Commission had addressed an issue of concern to all -- the changing age structures of populations. All countries were undergoing some change in their age structures. At each stage of life, people faced different needs and could make different contributions to society.

He said that a multifaceted approach was, therefore, needed to ensure that all people reached their full potential and realized their human rights. In the discussion, education and health had emerged as issues of particular importance. Decent employment and family friendly policies were issues of particular relevance for the working age population, while the provision of social safety nets and the recognition of the contribution of older persons had emerged as significant issues associated with population ageing.

Gender concerns, including violence against women and human rights, needed to be addressed at all age groups, he added. International ties to bridge the divide between the young and the old were vital for building a society for all ages. The importance of migration in an era of changing age structures had also been highlighted. Delegates had called for the promotion of policy dialogue, the reinforcement of capacity-building and the exchange of best practices. The demographic bonus had been described as a window of opportunity to help improve the quality of life for all. UNFPA would continue to support Governments and civil society in the areas of population and development, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and gender equality to meet the needs of all individuals in society.

Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division, said establishing the implications of the changing age structures was not easy, particularly when some were positive and others less so. The Commission had talked about many transitions, including the demographic transition, the epidemiological transition and the transition to adulthood. It had also discussed dividends and “windows of opportunity”, noting the many beneficial effects of reductions in mortality and fertility. While some had noted examples of countries where economic development had stalled even as the demographic transition advanced, failure to embark on the demographic transition posed serious constraints on development.

“Clearly we all want longer and healthier lives,” she said. Many had already achieved them. To ensure the sustainability of human life on earth, however, increases in longevity needed to be balanced by reduced fertility. Fortunately, the combination of the two had many benefits, even if it would take foresight and commitment to realize them. The Commission’s work was a necessary step on the path to their realization.

Immediately following the close of the Commission’s fortieth session, the Chairman briefly opened its forty-first session to appoint a new Bureau. The Commission elected by acclamation Ivan Piperkov ( Bulgaria) as Chairman of its next session. It also elected as Vice-Chairmen Hossein Gharibi ( Iran) for the Asian States Group, Alicia Melga ( Uruguay) for the Latin American and Caribbean States Group, and, following a nomination by Morocco, Frederick Matawang’a ( Kenya) of the African States Group. The Commission deferred the election of the remaining members of the Bureau until a later date.


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