14 April 2011

Speakers Link Higher Education among Girls to Declining Fertility Rates as Commission on Population and Development Continues Session

14 April 2011
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Population and Development

Forty-fourth Session

8th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Link Higher Education among Girls to Declining Fertility Rates


as Commission on Population and Development Continues Session


Higher levels of education, particularly among girls, had a strong correlation to declining fertility and better development outcomes, delegates and experts said today as the Commission on Population and Development continued its forty-fourth session.

“More education translates into better health outcomes in all societies,” said Abulkalam Abdul Momen ( Bangladesh), Vice-President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, as he opened the Commission’s general debate on the contribution of population and development issues to the theme for the Council’s 2011 Annual Ministerial Review.  He added that educated women were better able to plan their families and more aware of employment, schooling and health opportunities for themselves and their children.  On a wider level, fewer children in a society meant that more resources were available to every individual child, he said.

Participants this morning focused on the intersection of population issues with the theme of the Annual Ministerial Review, “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments with regard to education”.  Many noted that, while population growth had slowed in many regions and significant strides had been made in helping children gain access to education, the expansion of the world’s population continued to threaten those fragile achievements.

“Fertility levels have to be brought down at least to replacement level to avoid an explosion in the world population,” stressed Thomas Buettner, Assistant Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as he presented the Secretary-General’s report titled “World demographic trends”.  Other speakers agreed, recalling that stabilizing the global population had been among the objectives set out in the Cairo Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development 17 years ago.

Some national delegates recounted national experiences in population and education, with Indonesia’s representative attributing her country’s improving development indicators to rising education levels among women, successful family planning programmes, widespread contraceptive use and extensive primary health-care coverage.  “The relationship between population and development with education is undeniable,” she said, noting that educational attainment among women had also led to better use of ante- and post-natal care facilities and a dramatic subsequent decline in infant mortality.

Another notable success story was that of Mauritius, whose representative recalled that experts had predicted in the 1960s that the Indian Ocean island nation would collapse under the weight of its large population and low levels of development.  Instead, Mauritius had reduced its fertility rate by implementing strong reproductive health education programmes, she said, adding that national maternal and child mortality rates had dropped as living conditions had improved.  Mauritius now enjoyed a 95 per cent literacy rate among people aged 15-24 years, she said.

Hungary’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, agreed that reproductive education was an essential investment.  Comprehensive sexual education had been crucial in helping to reduce fertility rates to date, and would continue to be of “pivotal importance” in working towards full implementation of international development goals, he added.

A major challenge highlighted today was the existence of a “youth bulge” — a large population of adolescents and young people — in some Arab States.  Batool Shakoori, Chief of the Population and Social Change Development Section of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said that while those young people could open doors of opportunity for their countries, they could also exert pressure on social and economic institutions.  Governments could no longer afford to disregard young people, particularly in light of their part in recent political unrest across the region, she warned.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s delegate described the challenges her country faced as one of the most rapidly developing nations in the Arab world.  She said that an increase in per capita income required the national education system to keep pace with the requirements of global markets and the modern economy, providing students with much-needed practical skills in areas such as technology and ensuring that they would have employment opportunities after graduation.

Also speaking today was Miklos Soltesz, Minister of State for Social, Youth and Family Affairs in the Ministry of National Resources of Hungary, who delivered his delegation’s national statement.  Others were the representatives of the United States, Israel, Germany, Belarus, Pakistan, Turkey, Norway, Cuba and China.

Hania Zlotnik, outgoing Director of the Population Division, also addressed the Commission, as did Jorge Bravo, Chief of the Division’s Population and Development Section, and Armindo Miranda, Senior Population Affairs officer.

The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 15 April, to conclude its forty-fourth session.


Meeting to continue its forty-fourth session this morning, the Commission on Population and Development began its general debate on the contribution of population and development issues to the theme for the 2011 Annual Ministerial Review of the Economic and Social Council.

Opening Remarks

ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the 2011 Annual Ministerial Review would focus on the theme “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments with regard to education”, recalling that improving educational attainment, especially among girls, was one of the major recommendations of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action.  Education both influenced and, over time, was influenced by demographic factors, he said, noting that lower fertility resulted in fewer children both nationally and within families, thus making it less costly to educate them all or to spend more on the education of each child.

He went on to emphasize that more education translated into better health outcomes in all societies, pointing out that educated women were better able to plan their families and more aware of the opportunities presented by having fewer children.  By focusing on education, the Review was expected to add new impetus to all the programmes aimed at the attainment of universal education, he continued.  The Council was particularly interested in scaling up successful interventions, including sharing lessons learned and successful approaches that could contribute to ensuring that all children — particularly those from low-income families — attended and stayed in school.  Nonetheless, the Review could generate only some of the ideas and recommendations that must be considered and pursued, he noted, emphasizing that the Council’s functional commissions were an important source of input in assessing progress, identifying obstacles and devising strategies for achieving goals, especially when such strategies involved other areas of action not directly related to education.

JORGE BRAVO, Chief, Population and Development Section, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, discussed the links between education and population in developing countries.  He said education affected fertility because more educated parents had better access to modern contraception and lower unmet family planning needs.  More highly educated mothers enjoyed better access to health-care information and services and greater economic resources to deal with mortality risks.  Better educated migrants had more advantages when seeking employment, which led to more remittances that benefited their families back home, he said, noting, however, that there was concern about the resulting “brain drain”, particularly of highly educated workers from small developing countries.

He noted significant progress towards realization of the second Millennium Development Goal — universal primary education by 2015 — particularly in least developed countries, where school enrolment had increased from 52 per cent in 1991 to 79 per cent in 2008.  Net primary-school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 had been 20 per cent lower than that of North Africa or Latin America, but child mortality in the former had been more than five times higher than in the latter two regions, he pointed out.

Lower fertility led to reduced child-mortality levels because newborns spaced farther apart were less at risk of dying in infancy, and having fewer children allowed families to concentrate limited resources on them, he said.  It also lowered child-dependency rates, freeing up resources for poverty reduction and investment in human capital.  Countries in East and South-East Asia, as well as Latin America had grown by almost 2 per cent annually between 1970 and 2000 due to lower dependency ratios caused by fertility decline.  Fertility decline was occurring in all major regions and in most countries, he said, cautioning, however, that while education helped reduce child mortality and fertility, it was not always sufficient to drive down fertility.  In fact, fertility declines could occur even when education was not improving rapidly.


CSABA KÖRÖSI (Hungary), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said comprehensive sexual education — both inside and outside school — had been crucial in helping to reduce fertility rates, and would continue to be of pivotal importance in working towards full implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action and realization of the Millennium Development Goals.  In that regard, sexual and reproductive health education should not be limited to girls and women, but should also reach boys and men with information about their own sexual and reproductive health, as well as that of women.  It was also essential to fighting the continuing challenge of HIV/AIDS, he said.  However, serious challenges to universal education persisted, he said, citing high drop-out rates, especially among women, girls and minorities, due to factors including violence, early pregnancy, poverty and lack of investment in schools and teachers.

SUSAN OLSON ( United States) affirmed the importance of family planning, saying it helped to empower women and offered them more educational options.  Noting that frequent pregnancies at a young age limited women’s access to education and their capacity to make a living independently, she said educating girls was a key component of economic and social development.  The children of educated women also tended to have better nutrition and education, she stressed.

SUELO WULAN ( Indonesia) emphasized that the successful management of the global population dynamic would allow easier access to and better results in education for quality human resources, declaring:  “The relationship between population and development with education is undeniable.”  In turn, an educated population would have a positive impact, particularly with regard to fertility and mortality.  Indonesia’s national experience suggested that the decline in its fertility levels was largely due to the success of family planning programmes, widespread use of contraceptives, more extensive primary health-care coverage and an increasing level of education among women.  Educational attainment among women also led to better use of health facilities, including ante- and post-natal care.  As a result, the country’s infant mortality rate had fallen from 142 deaths per 1,000 live births in the early 1970s to 34 deaths per 1,000 live births today, she said.

SERGIO DELLA PERGOLA ( Israel) said his country faced many of the same educational challenges as other developed countries.  There was still room to improve access to post-secondary education, and it was necessary to ensure that young immigrant students from countries at varying levels of development adapted equally to the school system.  Describing efforts to narrow the resulting educational gaps, he said Israel gave parents a choice of four parallel State-run systems — the mainstream Hebrew system, the State religious system, an independent but State-supported religious system and the Arabic system.  Education concerning sex, reproductive health and family planning was taught in most high schools with the aim of better preparing young Israelis for the responsibilities of adult life.  Through its Agency for International Development Cooperation, the country partnered with developing countries in using education to promote better health in poor regions, he said, adding that such programmes included health education for mothers, as well as education on sexual health and HIV prevention among adolescents.

PETER SILBERBERG ( Germany) said the number of children out of school was “falling too slowly”, with some 67 million out of school, most of them girls.  When mothers were better educated, their families were smaller and the survival rate of their children tended to increase.  Women with post-primary education were five times more likely than their illiterate counterparts to know the necessary facts about family planning and HIV/AIDS.  He said the current international political environment favoured supporting sexual education and family planning, and the issue of reproductive and sexual health education was now at the forefront of discussion.  Emphasizing his country’s commitment to promoting population and education issues, he recalled that, during the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in June 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel had committed an additional €400 million in official development assistance (ODA) over five years to the “G8-Muskoka Initiative”, which sought to place a strong global focus on the promotion of reproductive health and voluntary family planning, including sexuality education.  Germany would double its bilateral contributions in that area, he said, noting that the country’s total development contribution to health exceeded €700 million annually.  The Government had recently launched a draft of its own new education strategy, which took a holistic approach and focused on women and girls, he said.

MIKLOS SOLTESZ, Minister of State for Social, Youth and Family Affairs, Ministry of National Resources of Hungary, delivered his delegation’s national statement, saying his country had a below-replacement fertility rate.  In 2010, it had stood at 1.26 children per woman, the lowest rate ever, he said, projecting that more than half of the Hungarian population would be over 65 years of age by 2050.  A growing ageing population and a continuously low fertility rate were Hungary’s main challenges, and among the biggest obstacles to sustainable long-term development.  To raise fertility rates, the Government was helping men and women reconcile family and professional life, both nationally and in Europe.  It had made family policy a top priority, introducing a family-based tax system and making universal child benefits contingent on school attendance, he said.

HAMDA HASSAN AL-SULAITI ( Qatar), stating that her country was working to build an educational system that would be among the best in the world, said it would enable children to achieve success in a rapidly changing, highly technological world.  Qatari women, in particular, had benefited in recent decades from the State’s aspirations to build a “developing, open society” based on the principle of equal opportunity.  The expansion of the education system was not limited to formal education, but also extended to social groups outside the traditional system, such as adult education, she said, noting that in that way, the State sought to address illiteracy by expanding learning opportunities for adults.  Citing the link between education and the economy, she said Qatar’s recent transformation into one of the most developed States in its region had raised its per capita income, a development that required the national education system to meet the requirements of the market and the modern economy, while also enabling recent graduates to obtain the practical skills for successful engagement in professional life.

ZOYA KOLONTAI (Belarus), announcing that her delegation would submit its presentation on education during the main 2011 session of the Economic and Social Council, said its State expenditures on education were higher than those of many European Union member States.  It was essential to close the gender gap in education and employment, she said, adding that the Government was trying to tackle poverty through education.  A major challenge was getting men involved in improving sex and reproductive health, she said, noting that responsible sexual behaviour among youth was important in reducing teen pregnancy.  The acquisition of basic knowledge on population and development should not happen exclusively inside classrooms, she emphasized, noting that Belarus had a unique system of after-school classes and youth clubs to which half of all school children belonged.  A Web-based “children’s legal site” and a blog had been created to curb violence among adolescents.

PREMA APPADU (Mauritius), recalling the prediction during the 1960s that her country would collapse under the weight of its large population and poor development indicators, said Mauritius had instead improved its situation by providing reproductive health education.  It had reduced the fertility, maternal and child mortality rates, and dramatically improved living conditions.  Education was now mandatory up to the age of 16, she said, adding that the national literacy rate stood at about 95 per cent among those aged 15-24.  Furthermore, there were no gender gaps in primary or secondary education.  Nonetheless, new forms of gender disparity had recently appeared with boys now lagging behind girls in school, she said, emphasizing that the problem must be addressed immediately.

SOHAIL AHMAD ( Pakistan) said his country’s 2009 national education policy identified priority areas in which to ensure equal educational opportunities for all, particularly girls.  The Constitution had recently been amended to ensure basic functional literacy, he said, adding that Government efforts would reduce the school drop-out rate among girls.  Provincial governments had created programmes for keeping girls in school beyond the eighth grade.  The National Trust for Population Welfare and the National Commission for Human Development had teamed up to promote safe motherhood and childcare through information dissemination campaigns.  The Government had set up education foundations to encourage the expansion of quality private-sector education, he said, cautioning, however, that while Pakistan aimed to achieve full literacy, it still faced formidable challenges such as high population growth and urbanization levels.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN (Turkey), associating his delegation with the European Union, said education should be interpreted in a broad sense as an important way to bring sustainability to development, adding that, “education is, in itself, development”.  Turkey had embarked on a national education strategy that entailed investing in school infrastructure, training teachers, mainstreaming technology into school curricula and increasing gender equality, among other aspects.  An especially important part of the strategy was eliminating the gender gap in primary schools, he said.  To that end, Turkey had launched a campaign to reduce by 15 per cent the number of girls out of school.  It had also raised general awareness of the negative effects of illiteracy, especially among women, since women’s education was closely linked with fertility rates.

BERIT AUSTVEG ( Norway) emphasized the importance of providing girls with a safe learning environment, free from violence, exploitation and discrimination.  Many girls were kept out of school to care for siblings and manage household needs, and for many families, educating boys was the priority.  Young girls who became pregnant were often forced to leave school whereas access to family planning and other reproductive health services could keep them enrolled.  Young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health information was essential for achieving the Cairo goals, he stressed, noting that schools had an important role to play in providing comprehensive sex education.  Men and boys must be educated about their responsibilities, he said, noting that his country encouraged education that challenged traditional male roles while giving boys and men real opportunities to develop new roles based on gender equality.  Noting that some 200 million children had not unleashed their full potential due to malnutrition and lack of proper care and learning, he called for a better alignment of the links between the Millennium Goals on education, health and nutrition.

The Commission then took up its agenda item entitled “Programme of implementation and future programme of work of the Secretariat in the field of population”.

Introduction of Reports

THOMAS BUETTNER, Assistant Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on World Demographic Trends (document E/CN.9/2011/6), saying it examined a number of scenarios relating to future population dynamics.  With the world population currently at 6.9 billion and expected soon to cross the 7 billion mark, that growth had occurred despite significant reductions in fertility, from almost 5 children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 children per woman today.  One of the driving forces in that decline was reduced mortality, he said.  Between 1950 and 2010, average human life expectancy had increased from just 47 years to 68 years.

Meanwhile, as the life-expectancy gap between developed and developing countries narrowed, the gap between developing countries and least developed countries widened — partly as a result of the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on the latter.  The report explored the impact of future scenarios, including unchanged fertility and mortality levels, which would shrink the population of Europe and see drastic increases in those of African countries; and attaining replacement level fertility among all countries of the world, which would result in continued population growth due to the phenomenon of “population momentum”.  It also presented a range of plausible future trends by considering three scenarios labelled “low”, “medium“ and “high”, which, taken together, revealed that current fertility and mortality levels in countries with above-replacement fertility were not sustainable.  “Fertility levels have to be brought down at least to replacement level to avoid an explosion in the world population,” he warned.

ARMINDO MIRANDA, Senior Population Affairs Officer, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the title “Programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2010:  Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs” (document E/CN.9/2011/7) and the Division’s draft programme of work for the biennium 2012-2013 (document E/CN.9/2011/CRP.1/Rev.1).  The first document gave an account of activities in fertility and family planning, mortality, migration, population estimates and projections, population and development, and population policies, he said.

He said the Division’s strategic framework for the current biennium was to strengthen the international community’s capacity to address population issues and integrate population factors into the development agenda.  To achieve that, the Division had three “expected accomplishments”:  to have facilitated review of progress in implementing international commitments in population; to have enhanced the global community’s awareness, knowledge and understanding of the full range of population issues; and to have improved accessibility to population-related information and data for all stakeholders.

He recalled that the Division had released the 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, saying the 2010 edition would be released at the end of April.  A new set of long-term projections on future climate change and energy use illustrated the effects of population growth and the structure of different hypotheses on future fertility levels, he said.  They sent a strong message that fertility in every country must be close to replacement level in order to avoid an excessive increase in the global population.  Maintaining current fertility and mortality levels was clearly not a likely option as it would yield a population of 3.5 trillion in 2300, he said, adding that the Division had launched a series of policy briefs, Population Facts, which highlighted the latest evidence on a given subject.

PETER WADE ( United States) praised the Population Division’s work on fertility and family planning, saying its Expert Panel on Fertility, Reproductive Health and Development and its 2010 CD-ROM on World Contraceptive Use, as well as other data and analytical products, were essential tools.  The Division had generated several products that enhanced the Commission’s understand of mortality trends, such as a wall chart that provided an update on the impact of HIV/AIDS on population.  Its updated estimates of mortality among infants and children under five years, disaggregated by sex, showed a reduction in excess female-child mortality in many countries, she said, adding that the Division remained a leader in population projections.  It had finished updating long-range population projections until 2300 and its analysis showed the powerful impact that even small differences in trends could make in the long run.  The United States awaited the results of the new 2010 assessment, to be released shortly, she said, noting that the Division’s new series of “Population Facts” was a readily accessible and easily understood analysis of critical population trends.

Mr. PERGOLA ( Israel) praised the Division’s consistently “excellent raw materials”, advanced estimates and sophisticated analysis of all aspects of demography, and its socio-economic implications.  The Division provided the essential institutional foundation for all those in the scientific and policymaking communities who operated in the broad area of population studies and demography, he said, expressing his delegation’s full support for the 2012-2013 working programme.

JAIRO RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ ( Cuba) urged implementation of Economic and Social Council resolution 6 of 2006, which sought to strengthen the capacity of States to complete their annual population calculations and projections.  Praising the Population Division’s efforts, he stressed that his delegation always responded to its surveys and was committed to furthering its important work.

ZHANG YANG ( China), endorsing the key themes indicated in the work programme, said that, thanks to technical support from the Population Division, her country’s Population and Development Research Centre had independently developed population projection software that may be suitable for most countries.  She expressed hope that it would contribute positively to standardizing population forecasting methodologies, upgrading the quality of population data and enhancing the data-collection capacities of developing countries.

HELGE BRUNBORG ( Norway) said that, while it was impossible to forecast reliably to the year 2300, the Division’s projections showed clearly the effects of different fertility and mortality scenarios, as well as the fact that current levels were unsustainable.  Obviously, the Division’s projected world population of 3.5 trillion people by 2300 would not happen, but it was surprising that its medium scenario assumed that all countries would have a fertility level of 1.85 children per woman for 100 years, and that the fertility level would subsequently increase to replacement level and remain there until 2100 in order to “prevent a continuing population decline”.  That may give the impression that the Division was afraid of presenting a declining world population since the medium scenario was still presented as the most likely series, he said.  In its constant fertility scenario, the Division kept fertility and mortality levels constant in each country but still found a strong rising world fertility level, from 2.6 children per woman now to 6.2 children per woman in 2300.  That scenario also projected declining world life expectancy, from 68 to 53 years, based on the idea that populations grew faster in countries with higher fertility and mortality.  It was important that the Division clearly demonstrate that compositional effect, he emphasized.

BATOOL SHAKOORI, Chief, Population and Social Development Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said the analysis of fertility and mortality levels in the Arab countries was one of ESCWA’s priorities.  In 2010, it had published the first issue of a policy brief on demographic transition in those countries, which had revealed that the region was experiencing a “youth bulge”.  That phenomenon would open up opportunities while also imposing challenges, particularly in countries suffering from inequitable social systems, unemployment and the general social exclusion of youth, she said.  The brief had also emphasized that Governments could no longer afford to disregard youth, especially considering their strong links with recent political unrest, she said, adding that ESCWA and the Population Division had also worked together on the priority issues of ageing and migration in various settings.

HANIA ZLOTNIK, Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, pledged continuing production of research and analysis after she retired later this year, emphasizing, however, that the Division could not carry out its work without the support of Member States.  Calling on delegates to honour and continue their commitment, she thanked them all for the congratulations they had extended to the Division.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.