5 April 2017
Fiftieth Session, 5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Discuss Migration-Driven Demographic Challenges, Role of International Assistance, as Population and Development Commission Continues Session

Speakers addressed the challenges of coping with refugee and migration flows and their impact on a country’s demographic makeup, as the Commission on Population and Development continued its annual session today.

Egypt’s representative said that population growth undermined all economic and social gains.  That dynamic shed light on the need to invest more in education and health care and provide assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons and those living under occupation.

That sentiment was echoed by the representative of Nepal, who underscored the plight of migrants and refugees and emphasized the need to share responsibility and promote extensive dialogue between countries of origin, transition and destination.

Maysoon Al-Zoub, Secretary-General of the Higher Population Council of Jordan, noted that the 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Jordan — one sixth of the population — had significantly shifted the country’s demographic structure.  Data showed a high fertility rate among the Syrian refugees, which would increase the country’s total fertility rate.  Syrian refugees also represented huge numbers of new entrants into the labour force, especially in the informal market, affecting work opportunities for Jordanians.

Demographic change was now an accepted fact and went hand-in-hand with the migration flows that had taken place over the last several years, underscored the representative of Djibouti.  Nevertheless, migration was no accident, and should not simply be viewed through the prism of financial burden, but also seen as a financial opportunity, he stressed.

The role of international assistance in addressing challenges brought about by population shifts was also stressed throughout the debate.

The representative of Nauru — speaking also for the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Tonga — warned against making aid contingent on imposing external agendas.  The family remained the central organizing unit in society, even though many forces of globalization continued to conspire to weaken that bond.  Respecting the different religious and cultural conceptions of the family of each country was critical, she said, stressing that “our heritage, our faith, our values, and our culture” must prevail.

The representative of Uganda noted that his country was focusing on long-term investments aimed at harnessing the demographic dividend, and the international community and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in particular, had a critical role to play in helping his country meet its goals.

In that context, Sweden’s representative expressed concern about the recent defunding of UNFPA, saying she believed the gap created by that decision would have long-last effects on women and girls, particularly in developing countries.

The United Nations organizations operating within Syria should provide assistance in analysing population policies and implementing national programmes, said that country’s delegate.  Doing so would allow Syria to achieve its goals of bolstering the health sector, promoting gender equality and addressing the question of migrants.

Pursuing specific policies aimed at addressing population changes could have profound impacts, highlighted some speakers, including the representative of the Maldives, who emphasized that his Government had worked to strengthen its health sector and had invested heavily in reproductive health care services.  As a result, the Maldives had seen a 90 per cent plunge in its maternal death rate since 1990 — the largest decline in the world during that period.

Benin, with 10 million inhabitants, was working to improve the living conditions of the population through numerous policies and programmes, said that country’s delegate, who went on to tell the Commission that Benin had put in place laws on sexual and reproductive health, a measure banning the practice of female genital mutilation as well as sexual harassment, and was providing prevention and care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In the afternoon, a panel discussion was held on the Commission session’s theme of “Changing population age structures and sustainable development”.

The Commission also heard national voluntary presentations from China, Ghana, Indonesia, Philippines, Sudan, Finland, Mexico and Norway, in which speakers highlighted their country’s specific challenges and opportunities with regards to population and development.

Also speaking during the general debate today were the representatives of Malaysia, Germany, Morocco, Kenya, Thailand, Russian Federation, Norway, Romania, Colombia, Burundi, Poland, Cabo Verde, Myanmar, Togo, Azerbaijan, Gambia, Cambodia, Suriname and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the Holy See.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 6 April, to discuss programme implementation and the future programme of work of the Secretariat in the field of population.

General Debate

M. SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia), said his country’s changing population age structures had created both opportunities and challenges in designing policies and initiatives.  The population of Malaysia was projected to increase from 31.9 million in 2016 to 41.5 million in 2040.  Furthermore, the expected decrease in the population growth rate was in-line with a declining fertility rate under way since 1991.  The Government viewed the current trends as an opportunity to reap the demographic dividend that would result in a rich resource of human and national development.  The percentage of young people had increased since 1991 and represented a fifth of the country’s total population.  The sustainable development of the nation would hinge on access to education as a critical factor.  As a result of the declining fertility rate and the declining mortality rate, the proportion of older persons in the country had increased.

DIRK JAKOBI (Germany) said that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, with a focus on the most vulnerable groups, was a top priority of German development cooperation in the areas of health and population policy.  Germany strongly advocated for a rights-based and gender-sensitive approach to family planning and comprehensive sex education.  Germany also promoted addressing HIV/AIDS as part of sexual and reproductive health strategies and believed that every person should have full and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health information, education, services and supplies.  Every person should be able to freely and responsibly decide on matters related to his or her sexuality; free of coercion, discrimination and violence.  The current generation of youth was the largest in history and youth wanted to live, learn, work and make a better life for themselves.  “We must do everything in our power to protect their rights, help them realize their full potential and develop into healthy, educated adults,” he said.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said his Government was addressing reproductive health and gender issues, which were integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Since the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, Morocco had made significant progress, particularly in promoting the rights of women and young people.  It would continue to invest more in actions aimed at improving the living conditions of all members of society, including the elderly.  Declining mortality and fertility rates had boosted the percentage of elderly people.  Their numbers would continue to rise even more by 2030.  Morocco would continue to overhaul its social security system, he said, adding that steps had already been taken to provide health insurance for low-income people and increase the retirement age from 60 to 63.  Meanwhile, harnessing the potential of young people, who made up 30 per cent of the population, was vital, he underscored, outlining national education and gender equality policies in that regard.  Empowering women was now at the heart of all national policy and given that Morocco was a major destination for migrants, the Government was also focusing on policy that ensured their fundamental rights.

Ms. EL GARF (Egypt), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Arab Group, said it was essential to understand the unique structure of various societies in order to shape relevant policy.  In the same vein, it was important not to force controversial issues that had no room in the Commission on Population and Development and should be discussed in other bodies.  Population growth undermined all economic and social gains, she added, emphasizing the need to invest more in education and health care and provide assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons and those living under occupation.  The international community must provide technical and financial support to developing countries to help implement national development plans.  Egypt’s policies were also focused on empowering young people.

Ms. SHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden), associating herself with the statement of the European Union, welcomed the broad respect and widespread support for gender equality and human rights as key to sustainable development.  One woman or girl died every two minutes from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth; the majority of those deaths were preventable.  “Change is possible.  Now, more than ever, is the time to join forces,” she said.  The world had the largest population of adolescents ever in history.  Sweden encouraged adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights, including access to modern contraceptives and access to legal and safe abortion services.  Millions of women suffered from severe health complications due to unsafe abortion, which hindered girls and women from reaching their full potential.  Gender inequality was a challenge to global progress across all regions and groups.  Some 225 million women worldwide lacked access to contraceptives that would allow them to control the number, timing and spacing of their pregnancies.  Sweden was concerned by the recent defunding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and believed the gap created by that decision would have long-last effects on women and girls, particularly in developing countries.  Sweden would continue its strong support for UNFPA.

JOSEPHINE KIBARU-MBAE, Director General, National Council for Population and Development of Kenya, noted that after two decades of stagnation, her country’s fertility rate had begun to fall and was currently at 3.5 children per woman.  Kenya’s population was estimated to increase to about 64 million by 2030, with 25 per cent of those people under the age of 10.  That large proportion of children would have implications for the provision of basic services such as education, health, food, shelter and protection.  The rapid increase in the proportion of children had impeded the Government’s efforts to further reduce infant and child mortality.  It had also increased the number of children living in difficult circumstances, such as street children, abandoned and neglected children, orphans and adolescent mothers.  Kenya had developed and implemented a national youth policy which sought to address issues affecting young people by including broad-based strategies that gave them meaningful opportunities to realize their full potential.

CHULAMANEE CHARTSUWAN (Thailand), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country had developed and updated its 20-year National Population Development Plan to tackle emerging population concerns.  The plan focused on a three-pillar strategy:  promoting quality childbirth, enhancing productive workforces, and supporting active ageing.   The Government aimed to halve the teenage pregnancy rate by 2025 by giving all young people access to services and information on sexual and reproductive health as well as prevention of unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection.  Assistance for families had also been put in place, including though tax deductions, subsidies to families with three children, support for women’s participation in the labour market, parental leave and affordable child care.  As it was forecast that by 2030 the Thai elderly population would double, the Government had focused on adopting legislation extending the retirement age and social security programmes.

Mr. KHARITONOV (Russian Federation) said it was important to galvanize efforts to develop a plan to tackle challenges posed by demographic changes.  Stressing the need to provide quality of life to ageing populations worldwide, he said the Russian Federation was also committed to ensuring young people’s access to education and health care.  Reliable data and analytical research were critical, he continued, underscoring his country’s actions to uphold the rights of older people in employment, health care, social services and the provision of goods.  Implementation of the Cairo programme of action was closely associated with achieving sustainable development; however, the excessive politicization of issues diluted the focus of the Commission’s work and spread mistrust.  For effective work, it was critical to strictly abide by the provisions and unify goals, he said, stressing his country’s readiness to share its data and analysis to move ahead.

GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway) said that the background reports for this year’s Commission session convincingly laid out the rationale for countries with high fertility to adopt policies supporting universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.  More efforts were needed to meet the current needs of some 225 million people in developing countries for family planning, including for young people.  Investments in young people’s education and health could increase a society’s ability to attain the demographic dividend, as well as build a strong generation that may remain healthy and productive for a long time, thus curbing long-term ageing challenges.  Since women usually outlived men, most elderly people were women.  Therefore, a gender perspective was important to secure a safe old age.  The international community needed to address the strain that women may experience if they were expected to perform productive work and take care of older family members, as well as young children.  Population policies would not be complete without a strong human rights perspective.

ELENA DOBRE, Director, Ministry of Labour and Social Justice of Romania, associating herself with the statement of the European Union, recalled that Romania and many other nations faced considerable challenges due to demographic shifts.  Recent studies in Romania indicated a shift due to a declining fertility rate, high rate of child mortality and large migration flows across the country.  Romania was committed to ensure that women and girls were guaranteed access to health care, education and social protection.  Stimulating economic growth and job creation was the primary focus of Romania’s policies.  The country was also putting in place measures such as extended childcare and kindergarten to promote a higher fertility rate.  Partnerships at the international level for finding common solutions to shared problems were of key importance.  Romania sought to create an environment where all citizens were provided with equal opportunities to participate in society and where their basic needs were met.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia) currently had a demographic dividend, but evidence showed that very soon the structure and average age of the country’s population would change, presenting new political challenges.  Colombia needed to pay particular attention to each stage of the demographic transition and would need to review all factors affecting society that resulted from that shift.  Colombia acknowledged the deep-rooted link between population issues and social integration, equality, health and non-discrimination, as well as human rights.  All efforts must be guided at all times by the principle of leaving no one behind.  Colombia was seeking to improve services to rural populations.  The country also used various data and statistical tools and was preparing to conduct a population census.  Furthermore, Colombia conducted an annual survey on the quality of life that addressed a number of cross-cutting issues.  A gender perspective which took into account issues relevant to women and girls had been integrated into those efforts.

MAYSOON AL-ZOUB, Secretary-General, Higher Population Council of Jordan, said policymakers were implementing programmes that invested in youth and increased their role in civil and political society.  Enabling women and ensuring their full participation through supportive legislation was essential to meeting the sustainable development targets.  With female labour force participation at 13 per cent in 2016, Jordan had adopted policies, including flexible and part-time work, to increase women’s participation.  Through the holding of local and municipal council elections, Jordan hoped to enhance women’s participation in decision-making processes and foster equal development among all regions.  The 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Jordan — one sixth of the population — had significantly shifted the country’s demographic structure, she continued, adding that data showed a high fertility rate among Syrian refugees, which would increase the total fertility rate in Jordan.  Syrian refugees also represented huge numbers of new entrants into the Jordanian labour force, especially in the informal market, affecting work opportunities for Jordanians.

ZEPHYRIN MANIRATANGA (Burundi), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, said his country had launched a domestic approach in line with the African Union theme of investing in youth.  Burundi faced major demographic challenges which could jeopardize progress.  Some 65 per cent of the population was made up of young people under age 25, he said, underscoring the need to invest in youth to equip them with relevant skillsets.  Burundi aimed to improve quality of life and life expectancy of all citizens through tackling poverty.  The State aimed to reduce levels of fertility from six to three children per woman, increase life expectancy rates, and improve reproductive health services.  Such progress would see gains in education and health care and help the labour market, he added, calling on the international community to assist his country in overcoming development challenges.

Mr. COMLAN (Benin), associating himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, said that population age structure was undergoing major changes in many countries, including Benin, due to scientific advancements, economic growth and improvements in the quality of life.  Demographic transitions were a universal phenomenon and were progressing swiftly in many countries around the world.  Benin, with 10 million inhabitants, was working to improve the living conditions of the population through policies and programmes and was committed to combating gender-based discrimination.  That political will was expressed through Benin’s accession to all international instruments promoting the rights of women and girls.  Benin had put in place laws on sexual and reproductive health, a measure banning the practice of female genital mutilation as well as sexual harassment, and was providing prevention and care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

ALINA POTRYKOWSKA (Poland) noted that over the last 20 years, Poland had faced serious demographic problems.  The percentage of elderly people had risen and the percentage of young people had declined.  Furthermore, the country’s life expectancy was increasing.  In 2015, people 60 years of age or older constituted almost 23 per cent of the population.  As a result, Poland was developing measures to increase the fertility of women, limit the emigration of Polish citizens and create conditions for their return, as well as increase the scale of labour immigration to Poland.  The country’s national health programme had identified operational objectives aimed at increasing life expectancy, improving health and health-related quality of life, including reproductive health, and reducing social inequalities in health.  The Government had also adopted a series of measures to help parents achieve a better work-life balance and increase the country’s low fertility rate.

JOSÉ LUIS FIALHO ROCHA (Cabo Verde) said that as a small island developing State with a mostly young population, Cabo Verde faced a demographic transition that was impacting the country socially and economically and would have implications for future development.  Cabo Verde had developed policies that reflected the challenges presented by its demographic transition, such as access to education and health care, including sexual and reproductive health, social inclusion and the promotion of youth and women employment.  Nevertheless, structural constraints based on being a small island developing State persisted and created barriers to enabling more sustainable economic growth and the creation of more productive and decent jobs.  The migratory phenomena and its impact on the demographic transition in the country must be better analysed and understood, particularly with regard to Cabo Verde’s role in accepting new immigrants.

NYI NYI, Deputy Director-General, Department of Population of Myanmar, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, said changes in the population’s age composition caused by a demographic transition impacted patterns of production and consumption.  An increase in the number of working age people could create an opportunity for rapid economic growth.  To take advantage of that window of opportunity, the Government was expanding investments in health and education for children and young people in the hope that such investments would improve both personal well-being and labour force productivity.  While women’s participation in the labour force had increased substantially since 1983, they were still outnumbered by men.  Myanmar was considering policies that would provide affordable childcare programmes, and had already updated its paternity and maternity leave systems.  While the traditional system of older people living with their children was still in place, the Government was focusing on ensuring the sustainability of social security systems.

ENYONAM BADOHOUN-WOMITSO, Director of Population Studies, Ministry for Planification and Development of Togo, said efforts had been hampered by a failure to meet the needs of a changing population.  The majority of developing countries, with high growth rates and a high youth population, must take advantage of the changing age structure to maximize the demographic dividends.  Some 61 per cent of the population was under age 25, posing major challenges in meeting health care, education, food and employment needs.  Despite those difficulties, the Government had taken action to empower women, create jobs, promote youth entrepreneurship, and foster gender equality.  None of that action, however, would have an impact on communities unless the demographic dividend was exploited for development.  The Government was pursuing plans to bring under control the birth rate, she continued, underscoring the critical role of North-South partnership in handling the population boom.

WILBERFORCE KISAMBA MUGERWA (Uganda) said his country had recently made progress in addressing its population surge.  Children born today were expected to live past age 63.  The infant mortality rate had declined to 43 deaths by 1,000 live births.  While total fertility rate had also declined teenage pregnancy remained a significant challenge.  Uganda had a large young population with 47.9 per cent below age 15.  He predicted the youth demographic would continue to increase as a large number of women were expected to enter childbearing years.  A surge in the number of young dependents would be a heavy economic burden.  In addition, high fertility posed major challenges for safe motherhood and child survival, he added, underscoring Government efforts to ensure a rapid decline in fertility.  Uganda was focusing on long-term investments aimed at harnessing the demographic dividend.  He also underscored the role of the international community and UNFPA in helping his country meet its goals.

ROUA SHURBAJI (Syria), associating herself with the statement of the Group of 77, said her country faced a multitude of challenges, including massive population displacement and the need for the repatriation of migrants and displaced persons.  Massive population movements had led to significant changes in age structures and placed undue pressure on infrastructure and housing.  Economic and social security challenges prompted the loss of many jobs and sources of income.  The decline of basic services, especially in the areas of health and education, was a further challenge.  Despite the daunting and complex tasks facing her country, the Government was moving forward to put in place early recovery plans in tandem with humanitarian response plans.  The Government called upon the United Nations organizations operating within its borders to provide assistance in analysing population policies and implementing national programmes so the country could achieve its goals of bolstering the health sector, promoting gender equality and addressing the question of migrants.

MOHAMED SIAD DOUALEH (Djibouti) said that changes in population dynamics had been a key issue over the last 20 years in Djibouti, and particularly now in the context of sustainable development.  Maternal mortality rates and fertility rates were on the decline in many places around the world.  Demographic change was now an accepted fact and went hand-in-hand with the migration flows that had taken place over the last several years.  Migration was no accident, and should not simply be viewed through the prism of financial burden, but also seen as a financial opportunity.  There was no place in the world that would be spared from the demographic shift.  Addressing population issues was one of the key policy areas in Djibouti, although other issues, such as developing the private and public sectors and promoting formal work were also high on the country’s agenda.  Djibouti felt it was well-placed to reap the demographic dividend.  Young people needed to be seen as the hope of the future, as they represented the future aspirations of countries that were willing to take over the reins of their own destiny.

ILLA MAINALI (Nepal), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, said changing demographic patterns called for a focus on empowering women.  Her Government was implementing a policy underlining the importance of gender disaggregated data.  National health policy aimed at ensuring reproductive rights as human rights.  Noting the plight of migrants and refugees, she underscored the need to share responsibility and promote extensive dialogue between countries of origin, transition and destination.  Nepal had concentrated its efforts to achieve sustainable development by integrating its national plans, providing guidelines, and breaking down goals into thematic groups.  The changing age structures had brought both opportunities and challenges, she added, underscoring the need to include youth in development and treat issues of the elderly with utmost importance.  Despite progress made in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, challenges remained and had been compounded by the 2015 massive earthquake.

MARLENE MOSES (Nauru), also speaking on behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Tonga, said a high rate of adult mortality was a persistent issue in the region.  Governments had been working to reduce risk factors, including disease prevalence, and ensure older persons had access to health care.  They also aimed to reduce poverty among older persons, including by ensuring employment for those who wanted to continue working.  Investing in youth was of the utmost importance, particularly in education and health care, she said, underscoring, however, that the most important investment to be made was in building the character of young people.  “They will need virtue and integrity” as they deal with challenges to come, she said, adding that both mother and father had a significant role in shaping youth.  Intergenerational bonds must be fostered.

The family remained the central organizing unit, even though many forces of globalization continued to conspire to weaken that bond, she continued.  Respecting the different religious and cultural conceptions of the family of each country was critical.  “Our heritage, our faith, our values, and our culture” must prevail, she said, warning against international assistance being contingent on imposing external agendas.  The promotion of abortion as a method of family planning was contrary to the work of the Commission and was a long departure of the cultural norms of the region.  Adequate financing was critical in achieving sustainable development.  The persistent challenges of small island developing States required cooperation in the spirit of mutual understanding.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) underscored that achieving greater social and economic development was dependent on a country’s ability to advance citizen’s basic rights and maximize the potential of all.  The Maldives was a young country, which meant the possibility of reaping a demographic dividend existed.  It was only natural that sustainable development should go hand-in-hand with the country’s youth agenda.  It was not sufficient to merely equip young people with skills if they did not have the means to translate those skills into productive employment.  The Maldives sought to ensure that all people, particularly the youth, had the opportunity to secure a good job.  The Government had also worked to strengthen its health sector and had invested heavily in reproductive health care services.  As a result, the Maldives had seen a 90 per cent plunge in its maternal death rate since 1990; the largest decline in the world during this period.  Furthermore, for the first time in its history, the Maldives was implementing a universal health care coverage system for all its citizens.

HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) noted that his country currently had one of the youngest age distributions among Eastern European countries, with young people between 15 and 24 years of age representing 27 per cent of the total population.  The youth were considered a great asset and special emphasis was placed on the realization of their full potential, particularly with regard to receiving a quality education and decent job opportunities.  On the other hand, Azerbaijan would also experience population ageing in the next decades, with the share of older persons over the age of 65 expected to increase from its current level of 6 per cent to 22 per cent by 2050.  A State Programme on Population and Demographic Development was currently being developed based on the international conventions the country had ratified.  The programme was designed to, among other things, promote family values and strengthen family institutions, strengthen the reproductive health of the population and reduce death and disease rates.

Mr. BAH (Gambia) said that with 43 per cent of the Gambian population under the age of 15, and 21 per cent between the ages of 15 and 24, the country had a high potential for rapid population growth in the future.  Health, sexuality, education and employment were some of the areas of particular concern to that portion of the population.  Furthermore, early marriage, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and unemployment inhibited the realization of the full potential of young people.  The challenge was how to prepare and engage that huge population of young people to be productive to create increased wealth and development for the Gambia.  Unless the international community and Governments fulfilled their funding commitments, developing countries would find it difficult to tackle the challenges posed by populations, particularly the youngest generation.

RY TUY (Cambodia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, stressed the need to invest in women, including ensuring their right to reproductive health.  Following a substantial decline in fertility and mortality, his country was going through a rapid demographic transition.  Such trends had opened a window of opportunity characterized by a declining dependency ratio.  The size of the labour force was expanding with the entry of a large number of working age youth.  A five-year national development plan focused on reducing income inequalities and further strengthening institutional capacity.  It was also committed to building strong human capacity throughout the country and strengthening the health system in both rural and urban areas.  Underscoring the need to ensure gender equality, he noted the Government’s work to address inequalities in access to reproductive health services.

KITTY SWEEB (Suriname), associating herself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of 77 and China, noted that the proportion of the elderly in the Caribbean had never been larger.  Those aged 60 or older made up the fastest-growing population group in Suriname.  The Government would have to meet the needs of a large ageing population against the backdrop of changing intergenerational relations, fragile government institutions and privatization of many services, including health care.  As for many developing countries, young people offered a rare chance to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, she added, underscoring the need to address Suriname’s high teen pregnancy rate.  Adjustments had also been made to the penal code to increase protection of children against sexual violence.

Mr. BATOBANDELYE (Democratic Republic of the Congo), associating himself with the statements of the Group of 77 and the least developed countries, as well as the statement to be delivered by the African Group, said that maximizing the demographic dividend was one of the key goals of development, particularly for the least developed countries; although doing so would require close cooperation between all development actors.  The birth rate in his country had been fairly high and remained stable since the 1980s.  More than half of the population was younger than 15 years of age.  Strategic action had been undertaken to address the needs of young people, including the elaboration and implementation of a national strategic plan for family planning, promoting equitable access to education for young girls and boys, and increasing the share of the budget earmarked for health care and education.  The country had specifically put in place measures that addressed sexual violence, promoted investment in jobs for young people, bolstered the capacity for the collection of statistics, promoted gender equality and combated early marriage and pregnancy.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the developed world, with high levels of consumption and low levels of poverty, was often responsible for imbalances in trade, the inequitable distribution of resources and environmental degradation.  Corruption, protracted conflicts and other man-made disasters, especially in the developing world, did far more to perpetuate injustice and entrench poverty than a healthy, growing population.  While responsible parenthood and sexual behaviour were always moral imperatives, the coercive regulation of fertility undermined individual responsibility.  Respect for life from the moment of conception to natural death must always inform policies.  Underscoring that the elderly, disabled and most vulnerable people in society must be at the forefront of development policies, he said the value of a person was greater than his or her economic contribution. 

Panel Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the theme of the session:  “Changing population age structures and sustainable development”. Moderated by William Miller of Global Connections TV, it included the following speakers:  Agnieszka Chlon-Dominczak, Assistant Professor, Warsaw School of Economics and Educational Research Institute, and former Deputy Minister for Labour of Poland; Youssef Courbage, Research Director, Institut national d’etudes demographiques; Edith Esinam Asamani, Project Office, Ghana Adolescent Reproductive Health Project at Hope for Future Generations; and Rafael Rofman, World Bank Program Leader for Education, Health, Social Protection and Labour, and Poverty in Buenos Aires.

Ms. CHLON-DOMINCZAK said Europe’s changing population structures were influenced by low fertility and increasing life expectancy.  While the number of people aged 65 and above would continue to increase, the young population would decline significantly.  Addressing challenges stemming from those trends was contingent upon labour market developments and welfare state design.  In Europe, the range of productive working age groups varied significantly.  In Poland, for example, young people enter productive working age at 25, while older people continued their productive working years until age 57.  While pension systems managed to sustain quality of life for now, challenges would continue to increase.  Forward-looking structural reforms would have to be aimed at increasing opportunity for productive work, addressing family-work life balance, and ensuring quality of life for elderly persons.

Mr. COURBAGE said that there was consensus among Arab countries that modifications in policy dealing with demographic change would contribute to growth and development.  Numerous countries in the region were witnessing an increase in fertility rates, including in the area’s most populated nations, such as Egypt and Algeria as well as in Tunisia, Iraq, Yemen and Israel.  Meanwhile, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman experienced more stagnant fertility rates.  The prospect of a youth surge required the labour market to deal with a bulging number of working-age young adults.  He underscored that the link between quality and quantity of work would likely decline and warned against economic stagnation due to the low number of employed women.  Emphasizing the need to assist countries in harnessing the demographic dividend, he urged Arab countries to shift their view to seeing the surge as an advantage.

Ms. ASAMANI said that when discussing the demographic dividend particularly in Africa, it was critical to examine how structures and mechanisms targeted a disproportionate number of young people.  Africa had the largest number of young people in 50 years; that group would turn into the largest group of elderly persons in history.  It was critical to ensure that the full human rights of women and young people were promoted, realized and then sustained.  When fertility rates were lowered, young women stood a higher chance of attaining a quality education and employment.  When nations invested in people like her, they were able to reap the demographic dividend, she said.

Mr. ROFMAN said the problem was not that populations were ageing, but rather that institutions were not adapting quickly enough to changing population dynamics.  The concern was that if there were less people working, less money would be put into a country’s pension system.  That was not just a fiscal problem, however.  The big challenge was how to manage the economic imbalances created by the ageing process.  Nations should revisit the rules of pension systems to make them more flexible.  Retirement should be a right, not an obligation.  If people were able to continue contributing, then they should be enabled to do so.  Every effort should be made to increase labour participation, particularly with regard to women and the elderly.  Societies needed more women in the workforce.  The only way to address the problems that arose from inadequate institutions was increasing labour productivity.

National Voluntary Presentations

The Commission then heard national voluntary presentations on eight countries:  China, Ghana, Indonesia, Philippines, Sudan, Finland, Mexico and Norway.

CHINA:  Since the 1960s China had enjoyed economic recovery, stability and improvements in living conditions.  In the 1970s China had launched a family planning programme and since then had continuously improved that programme with the aim of achieving low fertility, low mortality and low growth rates.  The infant mortality rate had dropped during that time, and life expectancy had increased.  Population transitions had resulted in significant changes in the age structure.  The gross population of China was projected to be 1.45 billion by 2030, followed by a stage of negative growth.  The ageing population was currently around 18.1 per cent of the total population, and by the second half of the twenty-first century, that figure was projected to reach approximately 30 per cent.  The population shifts experienced by China presented severe challenges to both resources and the environment.  Balanced development rested with a balanced age structure and a moderate fertility level.  The roles of individuals and families were being emphasized by the Government and efforts were being made to maintain the fertility rate at a reasonable level and avoid a sudden drop in the fertility level.

GHANA:  The current annual population growth rate in Ghana was 2.5 per cent, and the country’s population was expected to double in 28 years.  Births per woman had been reducing over the years, although that progress stalled between 1998 and 2003.  The proportion of the population between 0 and 14 years of age was 44.5 per cent in 1960, and 38.3 per cent by 2010.  In 2010, the fertility rate in Ghana was at 4.2 per cent, which presented challenges for development.  The contraceptive prevalence rate target was 50 per cent by 2020.  Ideally, family size should shift from large to a more manageable size.  The maternal mortality rate of 55 per 100,000 women was of great concern.  A baby was born every 51 seconds in Ghana and one in four women below 18 years of age were married.  More than 36 per cent of 19-year-old girls were mothers.  High unemployment was another issue, standing at over 38 per cent for those between 15 and 24 years of age.

INDONESIA:  The benefits of the demographic dividend were currently being felt in Indonesia.  Family planning programmes had resulted in important reductions in the number of children per women.  The total fertility rate of the country had steadily declined.  However, the country was experiencing uneven population density, distribution, and demographic transition.  Some areas were already experiencing an ageing population and specific, targeted interventions would be required for each province.  Human capital investment was the key to capitalizing on the demographic dividend.  Mortality was declining, while life expectancy was growing, although health expenses had started to increase.  In 2014, Indonesia introduced a national health insurance scheme.  With an increasing working age population, Indonesia needed more quality jobs.  The challenge would be encouraging collaboration between the Government, private sector and community.  Inequality had started to increase over the last two years.

PHILIPPINES:  The country was the second most populated in South-East Asia, with 33 per cent of its demographic under age 14.  By 2045, it was projected that those aged 15 to 64 would reach 67 per cent of the population.  The demographic had already shifted with young people of working age continuing to move to urban areas in mass numbers.  While the country’s total fertility rate had stagnated since 2003, only 4 in 10 women were using a modern method of contraception.  As the country experienced rapid change in population structure, its capacity to achieve demographic dividend was dependent on addressing stark inequality and utilizing the labour force.  Despite improvements in recent years, youth unemployment remained high, primarily due to the unavailability of jobs.  It was necessary to address the dwindling financial support for reproductive health service from development partners; providing universal health care would prepare the country to reap demographic dividend.

SUDAN:  Myriad factors influenced the socioeconomic situation of the country’s nearly 41 million people.  Internal and external conflict had led to massive numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees and had taken funds away from development.  The secession of South Sudan had created a new demographic reality for Sudan, as the working age demographic decreased by 20 per cent.  Sudan faced challenges related to changing social and economic needs, youth participation, education disparity between boys and girls, rapid urbanization and migration.  An increased number of young people wanted to leave the country to seek opportunity elsewhere, she added.  The rising number of the working age force served as an opportunity to increase production.  High fertility and population growth had to be addressed through policies combating violence against women and drug control.  Sudan must make more investments in young people, empower women and youth, ensure access to family planning programmes and manage migration.

Ms. ASAMANI, in the ensuing interactive discussion, noted that a common theme across most of the national presentations was the challenge of how to reduce their country’s fertility rate, as well as the maternal mortality rate.  That was especially true across African countries.

Mr. COURBAGE pointed out that the concept of what it meant to be “old” had changed a great deal over the decades, particularly as people were living much longer than in previous decades.

The representative of Ghana said that it was important to take note of the statistical data coming out of her country, as it provided the most accurate picture of what was taking place on the ground.

The delegate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that although maternal mortality had been spoken of at length, it was also important to take into account the infant mortality rate in countries.

Also speaking were the representatives of Zambia and Liberia.

FINLAND:  Sexuality had to be dealt with as a national issue, a policy that contributed to the decrease of child mortality and to the overall well-being of society.  The aim was for all children to be wanted and for all wanted children to be born.  Since the 1970s and 1980s, the country’s welfare system was premised on promoting equality between men and women.  Vital services, including generous parental leave and free contraception, were offered to all.  In the mid-1990s, however, major cuts in public services, combined with weakened socioeconomic conditions of families, caused a boom in teen pregnancy.  Good policies and services that followed reversed that trend, leading to a sharp decrease in abortions among teenagers.  Finland also had a rapidly ageing population, which would continue to place pressure on its social services.  Despite declining fertility rates, its population would continue to grow due to migration.  For its part, Finland also had a global responsibility to support least developed countries, particularly in empowering women and girls.

MEXICO:  Drops in the birth and mortality rates had shifted the country’s demographic makeup and accelerated the growth rate of its population.  Outlining various trends, she said in 2017 the population of older adults was set to reach just over 7 million and would continue to grow while the infant and youth population would continue to drop.  Mexico had introduced a national strategy to reduce teen pregnancy by 50 per cent by 2030.  Addressing the challenges of a growing ageing population would require a shift in economic and social policy, including in dealing with the decreasing mobility of the elderly and an increase in age-related illness.  New cultural models would have to emerge in individual, family and cultural settings to meet the needs of Mexico’s elderly.  Focusing efforts on health care and gender equality and eradicating discrimination, Mexico had assumed sustainable development as a State responsibility.  Recognizing the contribution of immigrants to societies, she reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to ensuring their rights, including those of the millions living and working in the United States.

NORWAY:  Due to relatively high fertility and immigration rates, the situation in Norway was far less dramatic than in some other high-income countries.  Various policy measures had been implemented to address the challenge, including a major reform of the pension system.  Furthermore, Norway was currently debating the need for increasing the retirement age.  Norway had a relatively high fertility rate, although it slightly decreased from 2009 to 2016.  Over the last 10 years, most migrants coming to Norway had been from other Nordic and Central and Eastern European countries.  However, the country’s migration pattern shifted in 2015 due to the refugee crisis in the Middle East.  Recently, migration had decreased markedly and emigration had increased.  On sexual and reproductive health, there was strong evidence about the role comprehensive sexuality education played in ensuring equal rights and opportunities.  In that context, sexuality education was part of the primary and secondary school curriculum across Norway.  Based on its own experience following the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1967, Norway believed the availability of contraceptives contributed to the realization of women’s rights and influenced demographics.

Mr. ROTHMAN, in the ensuing discussion, emphasized the importance of ensuring that women were able to control the number and timing of their children, not only as a matter of that choice being their right, but also because of the impact it had on a nation’s overall productivity.

Ms. CHLON-DOMINCZAK said policies must support families to enable individuals to meet their own aspirations.  Streamlining national strategies across various sectors was also of great importance to ensure cohesion.

The representative of Cuba said that the ageing of the world’s population was in fact a blessing, as was the large number of young people.

The speaker for Uganda stressed that countries must invest in areas that would ensure that those being trained could find decent work.

The representative of Nigeria questioned whether providing education was truly a solution, if those that graduated were unable to find employment.

Also speaking were the representatives of Mexico, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For information media. Not an official record.