Speakers Stress Link between Sexual Health Rights, Socioeconomic Growth, as Commission on Population and Development Concludes General Debate

POP/1059
6 April 2017
Fiftieth Session, 7th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Stress Link between Sexual Health Rights, Socioeconomic Growth, as Commission on Population and Development Concludes General Debate

Countries must understand and sufficiently address the inextricable link between sexual and reproductive health and socioeconomic advancement, speakers said today, as the Commission on Population and Development concluded its general debate.

People must receive comprehensive education on anatomy, reproductive health, contraception and sexually transmitted infections, said the representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.  Such programmes made people healthier and better able to contribute to the development of their communities, she emphasized.

Stressing the crucial role of sexual and reproductive health and rights, the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that countries should ensure universal access to such services, including family planning.  Ill health from causes related to sexual and reproductive health — including too many, too early and too frequent pregnancies — remained a major cause of death and disability among women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, and it limited socioeconomic development, she warned.

The sexual and reproductive health of youth was critical for a planet made up of 1.8 billion young people, underscored Dance4Life’s representative, who added that action aimed at addressing the global youth surge must respect and protect the human rights of all young people.

That view was echoed by the representative of New Zealand Family Planning and the Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, who stressed that only with the enactment of laws, policies and programmes that embodied a universal respect for human rights and gender equality could countries harness the potential of the demographic dividend and achieve equitable and just sustainable development.

Other speakers, however, expressed concern about efforts to limit fertility, saying that the use of contraceptives or abortion as a means to address population issues was detrimental to individuals and societies.

Benefits which had proven to be short-term had lured couples to suppress fertility and have fewer children, said the representative of International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, who went on to propose immediately encouraging fertility and eliminating all forms of contraception and abortion mandates.  Doing so would provide a streamline of young adults to rebalance the age structure.

A speaker representing Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Inc. Education Fund said that no right to abortion had ever been established in international law, nor was abortion necessary to protect maternal health.  Rather than promote abortion, nations with a high incidence of maternal and child mortality must strive to improve care for both mother and child, so that all members of society could flourish.

Another approach should be the promotion of faith in supporting sexual and reproductive health and ensuring that every birth was safe, said the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches.

Underscoring that human beings were innovative and, if given the right environment, they could actively contribute to their communities, the representative of the World Youth Alliance called on Member States to ensure that health care did not promote controversial policies such as abortion, which violated the dignity of the mother and child.

Roberto Liz, Director of the Economic and Social Department of the Ministry of Economics in the Dominican Republic, said that gender inequality, unplanned pregnancies and limited access to health-care services clearly inhibited educational achievements and impaired the ability of young girls and adolescents to fully enjoy and contribute to the development of the country.  In that context, the Dominican Republic felt that joint work with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on questions of sexual and reproductive health, sexual violence and other issues was very important and enabled further progress on the country’s national development objectives.

The plight of older persons was also stressed during the debate.  The Asia-Pacific region was ageing at an unprecedented pace, noted the representative of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), who warned that transformation was taking place with only limited social protection systems in place.  By 2030, one quarter of the population of the Asia-Pacific region was projected to be older than 60 years of age, she said.

In that context, ensuring the well-being and safety of older persons was of critical importance, the representative of the International Federation on Ageing told the Commission.  Data on violence against women was limited to those between 15 and 49 years of age, and while 133 countries reported having a law against elder abuse, more data was urgently needed to measure implementation, she continued.

Also speaking today were representatives of Lebanon and Tunisia, as well as the State of Palestine.

Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), World Tourism Organization (WTO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), League of Arab States, International Labour Organization (ILO), Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) also spoke.

Other speakers included representatives of Partners in Population and Development, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute Inc., Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, International Federation of Medical Students Association, International Federation for Family Development, Help Me See Inc., FEMM, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Amnesty International.

The Commission on Population and Development will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 7 April, to conclude its session.

Programme Implementation and Future Secretariat Work Programme in Population

SABINE HENNING, Senior Population Affairs Officer, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2016” (document E/CN.9/2017/5).  Outlining her division’s work in population policy, she touched on its myriad activities in migration, reproductive health, and urbanization.  The Population Division had continued its support to intergovernmental processes relating to demographic issues, including international migration.  It had also supported intergovernmental negotiations on migration and contributed to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  In the field of capacity development, the Population Division organized events focused on strengthening capability in sub-Saharan Africa to deal with its growing young population.  As it was committed to providing fact-based and timely analysis, the Population Division would continue to streamline ways to improve its outcomes.

FRANK SWIACZNY (Germany) underscored the role of accurate, timely and comprehensive data in analysing the impact of changing age structures on development.  Empirical data on demographic changes and evidence-based analysis of population dynamics assisted in guiding decisions while pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Such data and analysis were indispensable, he stressed, noting that Germany would continue to work closely with its partners to build up capacity to conduct data-based analysis of population dynamics.

Ms. HAYASHI (Japan) said that throughout the years the Population Division had successfully provided demographic data, publications and training materials.  Noting the usefulness of such material on monitoring population growth and shifting demographics, she underscored the critical use of data in assisting countries monitor progress.  Through data and analysis, countries compared themselves to each other and tracked demographic shifts over time.  The data on international migration was critical, she added, emphasizing the growing need to understand information on migration in order to refine the international approach to the phenomenon.

General Debate

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon), recalling that his country ranked among the top in the Arab region in meeting Millennium Development Goal 5 on maternal health, said that the maternal mortality ratio had decreased from 101.4 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 18.1 in 2013.  Attended births now accounted for 98 per cent of deliveries and 96 per cent of women received medical care during pregnancy.  Lebanon had been heavily impacted by the massive influx of more than 1.2 million refugees due to the ongoing crisis in neighbouring Syria, which had placed immense social, environmental and economic pressures on host communities, exacerbating vulnerabilities and overstretching limited resources and basic social services.  It had also created a significant demographic impact resulting in a sudden increase in the country’s population by about 30 per cent.

MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia), associating himself with the statement of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and with the Arab Group, said his country was experiencing a changing population structure.  Tunisia’s projected population shift included a gradual movement toward ageing, and in that context, the number of people over 60 years of age was expected to be more than 16 per cent of the population by 2020.  Tunisia was considering measures that would enable the country to adapt to that reality and exploring options to expand services offered to older persons.  Sustainable development could not be achieved without empowering women and ensuring their full role, while also facilitating their access to contraception.  Sex education could be provided to youth, particularly with regard to the risks posed by sexually transmitted diseases.  Without sex education youth were at risk and could not become full actors in building the societies of tomorrow.  Tunisia worked to protect the interests of its citizens living abroad to ensure their full integration into their host countries.

ROBERTO LIZ, Director of the Economic and Social Department, Ministry of Economics, Dominican Republic, associating himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said regionally, his country was at the top of the list with regard to annual growth.  He stressed the importance of the link between the population age structure and sustainable development, underscoring that his country was striving to maximize the demographic dividend for the benefit of all its citizens.  The Dominican Republic realized that gender inequality, unplanned pregnancies and limited access to health-care services clearly inhibited educational achievements and impaired the ability of young girls and adolescents to fully enjoy and contribute to the development of the country.  The Dominican Republic felt that joint work with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on questions of sexual and reproductive health, sexual violence and other issues was very important and enabled further progress on the country’s national development objectives.

ABDULLAH ABU SHAWESH, State of Palestine, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Arab Group, said any imbalance in population dynamics could have a negative impact on development.  Such imbalance could be caused by war, as was the case with the Palestinian people.  Israel had established laws based on discrimination where only Jews were entitled to housing in Palestinian territories.  Israel had also occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, applying discriminatory laws there as well.  Meanwhile in Gaza, which was severely overpopulated, some 2 million people were unable to reach the West Bank or East Jerusalem.  Since 1967, Israel had adopted policies of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, destroying institutions and housing, and banning development.  Since that year, Israel had also transferred some 600,000 of its own inhabitants to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  International law classified such actions as illegal; however, the international community had been unable to implement its relevant resolutions.  Since 1967, Israel had also incarcerated millions of Palestinians.

ROSEMARY KALAPURAKAL, Lead Adviser at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said significant shifts in population age distribution reflected achievements in human development such as improved health and lower mortality.  Older people, both women and men, must be empowered to live a full life of dignity with access to vital services, including health care.  Elderly persons must be empowered to participate in public life and contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.  Through discussions with other United Nations agencies, UNDP aimed to bring more attention to issues faced by the ageing population.  Collective efforts could contribute to reducing their vulnerabilities, enhancing their rights and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.

TAKYIWAA MANUH, Director for Social Development, Policy Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that Africa currently had the largest population of young people in world.  With the fast transformation of age structure, the potential for economic growth was substantial, if accompanied by sustained investments in public health, job creation and good governance.  The main challenge was unlocking resource potential that could lead to sustained economic development of the continent.  The Commission was working with its partners to adapt policies to meet the 2030 Agenda by translating commitments into action.  It was also integrating actions required to address migration across Africa while respecting the rights of migrants.  In the effort to “leave no one behind”, the importance of effective partnership could not be overstated.

Ms. MANUH World Health Organization (WHO) underscored the crucial role of sexual and reproductive health and rights in ensuring the health and well-being of populations in the achievement of sustainable development.  Countries should ensure universal access to such services, including family planning, in accordance with the objective of the Cairo Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda.  Ill health from causes related to sexual and reproductive health — including too many, too early and too frequent pregnancies — remained a major cause of death and disability among women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, and it limited socioeconomic development.  Noting that her department hosted the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction — the lead United Nations entity on such issues — she said the programme worked to deliver much-needed evidence for supporting national policies, programmes and health-care delivery across the life cycle.

JOE THOMAS, Partners in Population and Development, said that his organization was dedicated to the promotion of South-South cooperation and issues related to changing population dynamics, including ageing.  Bringing age structure dynamics into the discourse was timely, relevant and necessary.  Various social and economic factors impacted population dynamics, which in turn shaped the ability of countries to pursue sustainable development.  In countries and regions around the world, a demographic transition was taking place, based in large part on fertility and mortality rates.  Worldwide, there had been a 50 per cent decrease in maternal mortality over the last 20 years.  Investment in education and health care was imperative, as was ensuring women and girls had access to family planning resources as a fundamental right.  All women who wanted to avoid pregnancy should have access to contraception.

Mr. KHAN, World Tourism Organization, said that population and tourism may appear only tangentially related, but were actually closely intertwined.  Population growth and increases in incomes were key factors in the rapid growth of tourism worldwide.  Demographic trends, such as the youth bulge and the ageing of populations, had a direct bearing on how tourism evolved.  The recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities had resulted in the growth of accessible tourism.  After finance, tourism was the second-largest sector in the world economy.  Demographic changes also shaped tourism demand and development.  As more and more people traveled, they would require different and more sustainable strategies, facilities and services.

ASHRAF ELNOUR MUSTAFA MOHAMED NOUR of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said his organization was encouraged to see a number of proposals had been made in relation to migration in recent years, including the New York Declaration, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Furthermore, he was heartened by the strong support extended to the protection of human rights of migrants, particular young migrants.  The International Organization for Migration was committed to extending its technical assistance and operational expertise towards realizing the full development potential of migration.

NASRIA ELARDJA FLITTI, League of Arab States, said her region faced many more challenges following recent events that led to the mass movement of migrants and refugees.  Underscoring the importance of cooperation and collaboration, she said it was important to study population trends and discuss demographic dividend.  Challenges facing the region had led to a slowdown in achievements, she said, noting the coordinated efforts aimed at addressing negative conditions facing a large portion of the population.  She emphasized the need to empower young people and provide them with employment opportunity.  Israel’s policy of building barriers and settlements had negatively impacted Palestinian youth.  Collective international effort must be aimed at helping the region achieve the 2030 Agenda.

VINICIUS CARVALHO PINHEIRO, International Labour Organization (ILO), underscored that young people remained affected by high levels of unemployment and working poverty.  Roughly 156 million youth in emerging and developing countries lived in extreme or moderate poverty, despite being employed.  On the other hand, the world’s population over 65 years of age was expected to increase substantially over the next decades.  In a number of regions, slowing growth in the working-age population and extended life expectancy could translate into increased dependency ratios.  That reality highlighted the need for adequate social protection systems.  More than half of the elderly did not receive a pension, which was a major contributing factor to the prevalence of poverty among the elderly.

VANESSA STEINMAYER, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), noted that the Asia-Pacific region was ageing at an unprecedented pace, and in most cases, that shift was taking place with only limited social protection systems in place.  By 2030, one quarter of the population of the Asia-Pacific region was projected to be older than 60 years of age.  The working age population in many countries was already shrinking, particularly in East and South-East Asia.  Countries in South Asia were primarily young and could still harness the first demographic dividend, although time was running out, she warned.  Migration had become an important part of sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region, with migrants contributing to economic and social developing in countries of origin and destination.  However, migrants, particularly female migrants, often worked under precarious conditions in destination countries and had limited access to social protections.

Ms. ARJA, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), noted that the Arab region had witnessed significant demographic changes over the last four decades, including a considerable decrease in mortality and a net improvement in life expectancy.  At the same time, fertility rates had decreased at a slower pace, resulting in a youth bulge, a growing working age population and an increasing proportion of older persons in several countries.  Human movements, namely rapid urbanization, international migration and forced displacement, provided opportunities for reaping the demographic dividend, which many of the countries in the region could benefit from if they addressed the differentiated needs of various population groups.  Generally, poverty rates had increased and conflict had driven some 30 million people from their homes.

PAULO SAAD, Chief of the Population Division at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that most countries in the region were experiencing a period conducive to economic development.  However, that would be followed — sooner in some countries and later in others — by a period of a rapid ageing population that would pose new social and economic challenges.  He highlighted a project aimed at improving the capacity of policymakers to assess opportunities and challenges brought by the demographic transition in order to advance towards the Sustainable Development Goals.  An important feature of the project was to properly incorporate the gender dimension in the analysis of the impact of population changes on economic and social development.  Gender constituted a key factor to take into account when formulating sustainable development policies.

MARIAN NOWAK, International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, said benefits which had proven to be short-term had lured couples to suppress fertility and have fewer children.  She proposed immediately encouraging fertility and eliminating all forms of contraception and abortion mandates.  That would provide a streamline of young adults to rebalance the age structure.  By 2050, the number of older persons worldwide was projected to double to 2 billion, she added, emphasizing the need to provide continued education and work opportunity for people over 65.  A new paradigm of increased education and valued life experience in that age group coupled with improved nutrition and healthy lifestyles would lessen dependency.

STEFANO GENNARINI, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute Inc., said the goal of eradicating poverty, which seemed within reach only a few years ago, was under threat because of new challenges created by low fertility and ageing.  The inevitable economic slowdown from low fertility and ageing in developed countries threatened the very possibility of a demographic dividend ever materializing.  Meanwhile, some donors promoted policies that undermined the moral fabric of society.  He emphasized the need to invest in education, infrastructure and health care, particularly maternal health.

AGNES KING, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Inc. Education Fund, noted that demographic changes offered both challenges and opportunities for nations across the world.  To facilitate the demographic transition and take advantage of the so-called “demographic window”, many in the international community sought to reduce fertility rates in the developing world.  No right to abortion had ever been established in international law, nor was abortion necessary to protect maternal health.  Maternal health depended on the quality of medical care.  Rather than promote abortion, nations with a high incidence of maternal and child mortality must strive to improve care for both mother and child, so that all members of society could flourish.

ANN BRASSIL, New Zealand Family Planning and the Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, said that only with the enactment of laws, policies and programmes that embodied a universal respect for human rights and gender equality could countries harness the potential of the demographic dividend and achieve equitable and just sustainable development.  Young people must have access to comprehensive sexuality education.  Addressing inequalities in access and enabling and recognizing the needs of marginalized populations were of critical importance.

SIVANANTHI THANENTHIRAN, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, noted that Asia was home to 60 per cent of the world’s population and the region’s demographic picture was complex.  Gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and sexual violence against people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity remained entrenched.  Young people lacked access to comprehensive sex education, resulting in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted diseases, among other issues.  Mental health was woefully neglected, including with regard to the ageing population.

Ms. BARCLAY, International Planned Parenthood Federation, said that as a leading advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, her organization worked to empower people to live in dignity.  Countries must understand the link between sexual and reproductive health and economic growth.  People must receive comprehensive education on anatomy, reproductive health, contraception and sexually transmitted infections.  Such programmes made people healthier and better able to contribute to the development of their communities.  Changes in the population structure would not lead to economic growth, she added, underscoring the need to invest in supportive policies that minimize negative impacts and achieve sustainable development.

JILLIAN ABBALLE, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, noted her organization’s responsibility to promote each person’s dignity.  The Commission had strong health networks worldwide.  In many developing countries, Christian health organizations provided sexual and reproductive health care.  She called for action to recognize the important role of faith in supporting sexual and reproductive health and ensuring that every birth was safe.  The Commission also worked to prevent early and forced child marriage and ensure that people everywhere had the knowledge and services to care for their own body.

SOLANGE MBAYE, Dance4Life, said sexual and reproductive health of youth was critical for a planet made up of 1.8 billion young people.  Action aimed at addressing the global youth surge must respect and protect the human rights of all young people.  Underscoring the critical role of data, she expressed concern that data on certain youth age groups was lacking.  Urging action to eradicate early and forced marriage, she said youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services were key.  With regard to migrants and refugees, she said they must be provided with education and health services, including modern contraception regardless of marital status.  She also underscored the right of young people to participate in national decision-making mechanisms.

JULIA PINHEIRO CARVALHO, International Federation of Medical Students Association, said that among the most prominent concerns for her organization was the low level of health literacy.  The ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information was critical to making appropriate health decisions.  Therefore, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education was the main pillar supporting the human right to access safe and judgement-free sexual and reproductive health services.  Through education, individuals and communities could make their own decisions concerning sexuality.  In light of the recent decrease in funding to UNFPA, sexual and reproductive health and rights must be acknowledged as a core component of any nation’s development.

JOSE VASQUEZ, International Federation for Family Development, warned that too often, the voices of the youngest and oldest members of families were not included in discussions around community life.  There must be intentional efforts to build connections between generations.  The dual-income family model had become more and more common, and parents, particularly women, faced an increased responsibility to care for their children and older members of their families.  Urban settlements were increasingly attracting the younger generations, leading to a disconnect between the youth and the elderly rural generation.

CYNTHIA STUEN, International Federation on Ageing, underscored the need for a more multidimensional approach when assessing income security, particularly when considering the unique challenges of the elderly.  Health indicators and targets often failed to adequately monitor progress on older persons.  When it came to the care of older persons, more data was needed on unpaid care, which included care that older persons provided to themselves.  Data on violence against women was limited to those between 15 and 49 years of age, and while 133 countries reported having a law against elder abuse, more data was urgently needed to measure implementation.

JACOB MOHAN THAZHATHU, Help Me See Inc., said cataracts remained a disease of the poor, and a visual impairment developed later in life.  As the global population continued to grow, the number of cataract cases would also continue to increase.  At least 20 million people already suffered from cataract blindness with women disproportionately affected.  While the ageing population continued to increase, the number of cataract specialists remained stagnant.  He called on the Commission on Population and Development, non-governmental organizations, and civil society to help boost the number of specialists equipped to perform operations.  There was a long backlog of people waiting for the sight-saving procedure.

GABRIELLE JASTREBSKI, FEMM, said her organization’s mission was to ensure women’s health goals were met.  Health affected every aspect of life, and often affected women and girl participation in education and work.  “Knowledge is power,” she said, adding that a woman who understood how her body worked was empowered to make informed decisions.  Many women were told that symptoms they experienced every month from acne to severe cramps were normal.  While common, such symptoms were not normal, she continued, adding that a hormonal imbalance could affect women’s health in the long-run.  FEMM was training doctors to provide care to address the root cause of hormonal imbalance.  FEMM stood ready to be part of the strategy to empower women to make informed decisions.

DALIA CLEMENT, World Youth Alliance, said dignity must remain the basis of formulation of global policy.  In the international arena, discussion on development had found itself linked to demographic shifts.  In the long run, there was need for new policies to address what could be termed a demographic deficit.  She warned against treating human beings like a problem to be managed.  Human beings were innovative and, if given the right environment, they could actively contribute to their communities.  Therefore, basic health care, education, and good governance must be prioritized.  People must not be denied health care based on race, sex or class.  Member States must also ensure that health care did not promote controversial policy such as abortion, which violated the dignity of the mother and child.

BABU RAM PANT, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, said that the 1.8 billion young people globally represented an incredible opportunity for sustainable development, provided they had good health, human rights, employment opportunities and access to social, economic and political engagement and decision-making.  Meaningful engagement of youth from diverse backgrounds in decision-making at all levels was required.  Concrete measure to reduce inequalities and all forms of discrimination based on gender, age, class, sexual orientation and gender identity was needed.  The sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people also needed to be prioritized.

RADA TZANEVA, Amnesty International, said that gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, were key to achieving just societies and sustainable development.  Demographic dividend could only be realized if adolescents and young people could fully enjoy their human rights.  Older person’s contributions to societies must be recognized.  Policies must also prioritize the need of marginalized groups and ensure their equal participation in development.  Only development that was participatory and accountable could be truly sustainable.

For information media. Not an official record.