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“Fertility, reproductive health and development” was the key theme of the 44th session of the Commission on Population and Development, which took place on 11-15 April in New York. Bringing together various stakeholders, including representatives of government, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academia, the session aimed to debate national experiences in relation to fertility, reproductive health and development, as well as the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD - Egypt, 1994).
In one of the opening statements, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, highlighted that a reduction in fertility can lead to a “demographic dividend” that can boost economic growth. “As the number of children declines, the share of population in the working ages increases, boosting the momentum for economic growth,” he said. He also noted that since 1960, fertility has fallen in virtually all countries of the world, although at different speeds within countries. In the 1960s, on average, a woman would give birth to 5 children, while this figure nowadays has decreased to only 2.6 children. Emphasizing the interlocking nexus of high-fertility, high maternal and child mortality and high incidence of extreme poverty, he called for the universal enjoyment of basic reproductive rights, and increased investment in family planning.
Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that most countries have laws and policies in place to protect reproductive rights and the rights of women. However, achieving universal access to reproductive health and realizing reproductive rights remain an urgent challenge. “Too many people continue to face discrimination, coercion and violence in making decisions about reproduction. Too many women and couples cannot exercise their right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. […] Some 215 million women in developing countries, who want to plan and space their births, do not have access to modern contraception. Each year, neglect of sexual and reproductive health results in an estimated: 80 million unintended pregnancies; 22 million unsafe abortions; 358,000 deaths from maternal causes, including 47,000 deaths from unsafe abortion,” he explained.
Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented various scenarios of future population growth to demonstrate that in order to ensure sustainability and the wellbeing of future generations, a reduction in population growth is essential. If during the next two decades developing countries only experience a slow fertility decline, the number of children will increase by 360 million, making it more difficult to provide the vaccinations, schooling and jobs that those children will need, she said. This was later on confirmed by Thomas Buettner, Assistant Director of the Population Division, who introduced the UN Secretary-General’s report on World demographic trends (E/CN.9/2011/6), which explains population dynamics worldwide. The report finds that, despite significant reduction in fertility – driven by mortality reduction, the world population is in constant growth. The report presents a variety of scenarios to illustrate the implications of future variations in fertility. He emphasized that the current level of fertility and mortality in countries with above replacement fertility is not sustainable.
During the general debate, participants agreed that education is key in addressing high fertility levels. Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Vice-President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, for example, emphasized that educated women are better able to plan their families and more aware of employment, schooling and health opportunities for themselves and their children.
While presenting the Secretary-General’s report on Fertility, reproductive health and development, Ann Biddlecom, Section Chief of the Population Division/DESA, highlighted that the diversity in fertility rates and access to reproductive health facilities around the world are also linked to issues of equity. “People in low-income countries and the low-income groups in many populations have limited access to information, services and the recommended package of maternal and child care. There is an urgent need to increase support for improving the care of women during pregnancy and delivery and to ensure that all men and women have access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.” She further explained that the use of contraception, particularly of effective modern methods, is critical to enable couples and individuals to determine the timing and number of the children they have.
Werner Haug, Director of the Technical Division of the United Nations Population Fund, introduced another report by the Secretary-General on the Monitoring of Population Programmes, Focusing on Fertility, Reproductive Health and Development. This report calls for an increase in efforts and resources to make reproductive health and family planning accessible worldwide, particularly in countries with high fertility rates, and to ensure the potential economic benefits of reduced fertility rates. These efforts must be complemented with the strengthening of health systems, governments’ capacity to provide contraceptive security, political commitment, and socio-cultural norms that promote healthy behaviour and gender equality. Consequently, Mr. Haug encouraged greater involvement of multiple actors, including development banks, civil society, faith-based organizations, and public and private sector partners, in order to increase funding and promote the benefits of sexual and reproductive health.
Jose Miguel Guzman, Population and Development Branch, Technical Division of UNFPA, presented the report of the Secretary-General on the Flow of Financial Resources for Assisting in the Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. During his presentation, he explained the need for higher levels of development assistance that are directed towards population and reproductive health issues in order to help eliminate poverty and improve social conditions. The Millennium Development Goals will never be achieved without addressing population and reproductive health issues. The challenge before the international community, both donor and developing countries, is to mobilize the additional resources required to fully implement the ICPD agenda, he said.
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