Source: IISD

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report that calls for investments in health, education and the protection and empowerment of women and girls in Africa. The report argues that the right investments can set the foundation for a demographic dividend that could lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of extreme poverty and contribute to enhanced prosperity, stability and peace.

The report titled, ‘Generation 2030 Africa 2.0’, highlights possibilities for harnessing the potential of Africa’s children, a population that is expected to exceed one billion by 2055. According to the UN, an additional 5.8 million new teachers and 5.6 million new health workers will be needed to keep pace with the projected growth of children in Africa, which is expected to increase by 170 million children between now and 2030. If needed investments in Africa’s children and youth do not occur, the report cautions that the continent’s demographic dividend could be become a “demographic disaster, characterized by unemployment and instability.”

Educating women is one of the fastest ways to reduce poverty and fertility. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of births per women fall from 6.7 births for women with no education to 3.9 births for women with secondary education.

According to the report, Africa’s demographic change results from three factors: more children living beyond their fifth birthday; a surge of women of reproductive age; and high fertility rates. Nigeria accounts for 20 percent of all births in Africa and five percent of the global total. Based on current projections, one out of every 13 births globally will occur in Nigeria by 2050. According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the fastest ways to reduce poverty and fertility is through educating women. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of births per women fall from 6.7 births for women with no education to 5.8 average births per women for those with primary education and to 3.9 births for women with secondary education.

UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Pakkala, stresses that investments in health, education and protection must become “an absolute priority for Africa between now and 2030,” saying that the right conditions could set the foundation for lifting “hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty” and enhance prosperity, stability and peace. UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, called for imaging “the potential of one billion children.” Poirier said, if Africa increases its investments in children, youth and women’s empowerment and transforms its education and health systems, “it will be able to reap faster, deeper and longer dividends from its demographic transition.”

The report recommends three actions to create socio-economic conditions for Africa’s future generations. First it recommends improving health, social welfare and protection services to meet international standards, or to exceed them in countries that are close to attaining these standards. Second, the report calls for adapting Africa’s educational skills and vocational learning system through access to technology and curricula reform to ensure Africa’s population has the skills needed in a 21st century labor market. Third, the report recommends a number of actions to protect women and girls, including ensuring the right to protection from child marriage, exploitation, violence, and abuse, removing barriers that prevent women and girls from full participation in their community, workplace and in political life and enhancing their access to reproductive health services. If Africa invests in its human capital and implements policies that promote job growth, the report suggests that per capita incomes could increase up to four-fold by 2050.

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