The Commission on Population and Development opened its fifty-second session at Headquarters today with the adoption by consensus of a political declaration underscoring the critical role of population-related measures and policies in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the Programme of Action that emerged from its deliberations, the concise text — comprising seven operative paragraphs — represents the first time that the 47-member Commission has agreed on an outcome document since its forty-ninth session in 2016.
Speaking prior to its adoption, Courtenay Rattray (Jamaica), Commission Chair, said the Bureau had concluded that a “short, action-oriented” declaration would be the best and, perhaps, the only feasible option for achieving consensus within the subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council.
Emphasizing that despite a quarter-century of progress, much remains to be done, the declaration reaffirms the Commission’s commitment to the Programme of Action and calls for its accelerated implementation. The text also highlights the relevance of implementing the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action for achieving the 2030 Agenda, he said.
It underlines the critical role of partnerships, with civil society, the private sector and foundations all being part of the solution, financially and otherwise. It stresses the importance of good, unbiased data to measure progress and identify gaps, and encourages Member States to integrate the population dimension in their contributions to July’s high-level political forum on sustainable development.
Throughout this week, the Commission will take stock of progress on the Programme of Action’s contribution to the 2030 Agenda, ahead of this year’s two scheduled meetings of the high-level political forum in New York, as well as a summit on 12-14 November in Nairobi on advancing its implementation.
In opening remarks, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, called the Programme of Action a “living document”. There is much to celebrate, she said, with fewer persons living in extreme poverty than in 1994, while primary education has expanded the horizons of millions. However, progress has been uneven, with many countries sadly witnessing a push-back on women’s rights. She added: “We need a revolution in quality standards that will prepare young children for the economy of the future.”
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, recalled that the Commission has a mandate to examine topics at the intersection of population and sustainable development, and will contribute to the two meetings of the high-level political forum on that issue taking place later in 2019. She noted that the 50 countries scheduled to present voluntary national reviews during the political forum should include a focus on interlinkages between population issues and sustainable development.
Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said progress since the Cairo Conference includes a decline in child mortality and an increase in life expectancy worldwide. However, the international community must not lose sight of the fact that millions are still waiting for the promise of that gathering, the majority of whom live in countries with, among other things, extreme poverty, fragile health systems and gender inequality.
Echoing that view, Ashley Judd, United Nation Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador, who discussed her travels around the world as an activist, said the international community must think of the promises it made 25 years ago. “If we invest in women and girls, all the Sustainable Development Goals will advance rapidly,” she said. Noting the backlash against women’s rights, she added the Commission’s discussions reach into “the bedrooms and bathrooms of the most vulnerable people around the world”. When mothers in West Africa are forced to have more children than they can handle, or couples in Eastern Europe face personal restrictions on when to start families, or girls in fragile settings are forced into marriage, that has huge implications for future populations and sustainable development, she said.
Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said population growth is caused by a decline in the death rate, and is, therefore, an important sign of progress. As growth slows, the population grows older, leading to an increasing share of older persons on the world. Ageing is also, thus, a fundamental sign of progress. She stressed, however, that the consequences of that progress must be reflected in development plans. “We must prepare for a world with a population that is larger, older, more mobile and more urbanized than ever before,” she said.
During the general debate, speakers emphasized their Government’s commitment to the Programme of Action and pointed to the progress made in the past quarter-century. At the same time, they underscored outstanding challenges, including in the areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and emphasized the need for adequate financial resources to achieve sustainable development.
On behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the observer for the State of Palestine said progress in fulfilling the goals and objectives is uneven and slow. Calling for a more inclusive process to implement the vision articulated in the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda, she highlighted the importance of reducing poverty, assuring stronger health systems, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and promoting gender equality, among other goals.
The representative of Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the bloc remains committed to the promotion and fulfilment of every individual’s right to have full control over and decide freely on matters related to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health. While there have been many advances since 1994, burgeoning migration and the impact of climate change are creating new challenges, as well as opportunities, on a global scale.
Nigeria’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said his continent is a crucial part of the demographic shift around the world. With good policies, this shift could also be an opportunity, he noted, adding that the Group is committed to ensuring that “none of our citizens are left behind”. Calling for increased official development assistance (ODA), he emphasized the crucial role of UNFPA in assisting members based on their developmental needs.
In other business, the Commission elected, by acclamation, Mr. Rattray as its Chair for its 2019 session; Leila C. Lora-Santos (Philippines), Saidu Nallo (Sierra Leone) and René Lauer (Luxembourg) as Vice-Chairs; and Mr. Nallo as Rapporteur. It also adopted its agenda for the session (document E/CN.9/2019/1) and its organization of work (document E/CN.9/2019/L.1/Rev.1).
Also speaking today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Egypt, Dominican Republic, Serbia, Philippines, North Macedonia, Peru, Honduras, South Africa, Niger, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Haiti, Netherlands, China, Belarus, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Mexico, Nigeria (in its national capacity), Morocco, Bangladesh, Malta and Israel.
Presenting reports today were Jorge Bravo, Chief of the Population Policies and Development Branch in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Benoit Kalasa, Director of the Technical Division of UNFPA; and Rachel Snow, Chief of UNFPA’s Population and Development Branch.
Representatives of Denmark, Romania (on behalf of the European Union), Netherlands (on behalf of several countries), United States, Russian Federation and Mexico spoke in explanation of position on the political declaration.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene on Tuesday, 2 April, at 10 a.m. to hold a panel on key findings and recommendations of the regional conferences on population and development and continue its general debate.
COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), Chair of the fifty-second session of the Commission on Population and Development, noting the extraordinary importance of the current session, pointed out that 25 years after its adoption, the Cairo Programme of Action remains notable for its conciseness, clarity and continued relevance. The text reflects a consensus joined by 179 Governments on critical issues related to population and development, issues that are as critical today as they were back in 1994. Action on the Commission’s main outcome is scheduled for today, he pointed out, to ensure that the ministers and high-level officials attending the opening will be truly invested in the process.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, said that the Programme of Action provides a comprehensive overview of the multiple linkages between population and development, including the rights that are inherent to everyone through different phases of their life, from birth through death, marriage, childbirth and migration. Highlighting the remarkable staying power of the Programme, she called it a “living document” that offers valuable guidance in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. There is much to celebrate, she said, adding that since 1994, fewer persons are living in extreme poverty, and primary education has expanded the horizons of millions.
However, she pointed out, there are severe gaps in implementation as well, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is not keeping pace with population growth. Progress has proved uneven, she said, and while global demands for family planning are being met by contraception, sadly many countries are seeing a push-back on women’s rights. The world must show greater ambitions and energy. Gender equality must be at the core of each Sustainable Development Goal and women and girls must be seen as agents of change. It is especially vital, she stressed, to provide the means for women to make decisions on matters relating to their bodies and lives.
Also highlighting the need for universal access to quality education, particularly for young girls, she said that cash transfer programmes, credits for the poor and school lunches are incentives to keep children in school. “We need a revolution in quality standards that will prepare young children for the economy of the future,” she said, also noting that population increase has important consequences for the environment. The Cairo Conference had given due importance to those issues, she recalled, adding that the wold’s poorest suffered the most impact from climate change despite contributing the least to it.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, recalled that the Commission — which before the Cairo Conference was known as the Population Commission — has a mandate to examine topics at the intersection of population and sustainable development. The Commission’s work will contribute to the two meetings of the high-level political forum on sustainable development taking place later in 2019, she said. Noting that the Commission is committed to strengthening the role of all its functional commissions, including the Commission on Population and Development, she said that the 50 countries scheduled to present voluntary national reviews during the July meeting of the high-level political forum should include a focus on interlinkages between population issues and sustainable development.
NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), described the Commission as “the home of the International Conference on Population and Development”. Reviewing the progress made since the Cairo Conference, she noted, among other things, a decline in child mortality and an increase in life expectancy worldwide. Such progress is due in part to efforts by “we the peoples, large and small”, from the United Nations and national Governments to civil society, communities and partners. She emphasized, however, that the international community cannot lose sight of the fact that millions are still waiting for the promise of the International Conference, the majority of whom live in countries with, among other things, extreme poverty, fragile health systems and gender inequality, as well as the threat of natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. Solutions will require innovative approaches, better mapping, robust funding and the interdisciplinary approach of “One UN”, she said. Describing the International Conference as “a benchmark for certain truths”, she said nobody should die while giving life, individuals and couples should decide if, when and how many children to have, and no one should be subjected to gender and sexual-based violence.
MARIA-FRANCESCA SPATOLISANO, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said that the presence of senior officials in the room signalled an enduring commitment to the Programme of Action and the ongoing work of implementing that text. Highlighting the work of UNFPA in helping countries, she said that nowhere have the connections between population growth, poverty alleviation and sustainable economic growth been more clearly articulated than in the Cairo Programme of Action. Looking forward to the July high-level political forum, she lauded the international community’s important achievements in global life expectancy and child mortality rates, and the decline in the annual growth rate of the global population.
Population growth is caused by a decline in the death rate, she said, noting that it is, therefore, an important sign of progress. As growth slows down, the population grows older, leading to an increasing share of older persons in the world. Ageing is also, thus, a fundamental sign of progress. But, she stressed, it is necessary to recognize the consequences of that progress in development plans. Urbanization and migration also affect sustainable development. “We must prepare for a world with a population that is larger, older, more mobile and more urbanized than ever before,” she said.
ASHLEY JUDD, United Nations Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador, said she considered herself a messenger for the 600 million adolescent girls around the world, the 6.7 million girls who will be forced into marriage in 2019, the 214 million women who still have no access to modern family planning methods and the 300,000 mothers who will die in childbirth this year. Real people have been forgotten in the spiral of political arguments, she said, recalling that in 1994, representatives of 179 Governments had met in Cairo to design the Programme of Action and shift the paradigm on population and development. That text represented a recognition that autonomous choices and individual well-being are the path to sustainable development, she said.
Speaking about her travels around the world as an activist, she recalled a Ukrainian activist who found the courage to leave her husband, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee who was pregnant and the Sri Lankan youth who were empowering women in their country. The international community must think of the promises it made 25 years ago, she said, stressing, “if we invest in women and girls, all the Sustainable Development Goals will advance rapidly”. Noting the current backlash against women’s rights, she added that the discussions in this room reach into “the bedrooms and bathrooms of the most vulnerable people around the world”.
When mothers in West Africa, she continued, are forced to have more children than they can handle or couples in Eastern Europe face personal restrictions on when to start families, or girls in fragile settings are forced into marriages because they have no better options, that has huge implications for future population and sustainable development. Despite remarkable achievements in family planning, workplace equality and the rising number of women political leaders, “one woman who dies giving birth is one too many”, she said. Recalling her own experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape, she said that there is a lot of work to be done in the United States as well. As soon as women’s bodies become ideological battlegrounds, “we all lose”, she said. Human rights should not be bargaining chips, she stressed.
Action on Draft Declaration
Mr. RATTRAY then invited the Commission to turn its attention to the draft political declaration on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2019/L.3). He said that in preparing for the 2019 session, the Bureau concluded that a “short, action-oriented” declaration would be the best, and perhaps only, feasible option.
The text reaffirms the Commission’s commitment to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, he explained. It highlights the value of regular reviews by the International Conference, as well as the regional reviews on population and development held in 2018. It calls for accelerated implementation of the Programme of Action, he said, emphasizing that despite progress over the past 25 years, much remains to be done.
The text also highlights the relevance of implementing the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action for achieving the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding: “Without further and sustained efforts to implement the Programme of Action, it is unlikely that we would achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals.” The draft political declaration goes on to underline the critical role of partnerships, he added, stating that civil society, the private sector and foundations are all part of the solution, financially and otherwise. It stresses the importance of good, unbiased data to measure progress and identify gaps and, finally, it encourages Member States to integrate the population dimension in their contributions to July’s high-level political forum on sustainable development.
The Commission, without a vote, then adopted the declaration.
The representative of Denmark, in an explanation of position, said she was pleased that the Commission in 2019 was able to adopt a political declaration by consensus. Millions of women and girls are counting on the Commission’s leadership. A woman’s right to decide freely on matters concerning her body and her future is at the core of Denmark’s development policy, she said, announcing that her country is giving the equivalent of $2.3 million to UNFPA for the agency’s out-of-school project in West Africa.
The representative of Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that given the disappointments of recent years, consensus is welcome. However, the bloc would have liked to have seen greater prominence given to the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding that it did not interpret language in operative paragraph 4 as imposing any new financial obligations on Member States.
The representative of the Netherlands, speaking also on behalf of several countries, noted the progress that has been made, through the Programme of Action and its review conferences, in saving lives, empowering women and strengthening gender equality. However, many rights defined in the Programme of Action remain elusive, particularly for those who face repression, discrimination, displacement and marginalization. Stressing that addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights requires a holistic approach, she said comprehensive sexuality education is fundamental for advancing economic development and the well-being of humanity. Looking forward to the Nairobi summit, she emphasized UNFPA’s important mandate and the role of civil society and partnerships. Hopefully, by building on the renewed constructive spirit that led to today’s consensus, it will be possible to fully realize the promise of the Cairo Conference, she said.
Also speaking in explanation of position, the representative of the United States noted important clarifications regarding the language related to the 2030 Agenda and the Programme of Action. The Agenda is nonbinding and does not create rights or obligations or financial commitments, she said. Recognizing the Agenda as a global framework for sustainable development, she emphasized the call for shared responsibility. The Agenda does not represent a commitment to provide new market access for goods and services. On the Programme of Action, she added that while her Government fully supports family planning access, it does not recognize abortion as a method for family planning.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that after a two-year break, the Political Declaration had been adopted by consensus, welcomed the focus on States’ commitment to implementing the Cairo Programme of Action, a fundamental document for international collaboration in population and development. The fall 2018 regional review conferences on implementation had concluded without the adoption of intergovernmentally agreed outcome documents, he noted, stressing that the Chair’s summaries of these meetings are subjective and cannot be viewed as guidelines for States. Recalling a United Nations document that had referred to an international non-governmental organization’s activity providing so-called needle exchanges, he said that “we consider it inappropriate to include this in a United Nations document”.
The representative of Mexico welcomed the achievement of the Declaration but noted that his delegation would have preferred a document that reflected the work done in regional areas. Further, he said, the Programme of Action adopted in Cairo is particularly relevant and “so is the Montevideo Consensus [on Population and Development]”.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that while many of the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference have been attained, progress is uneven and slow, with the benefits of social and economic progress shared unequally. Calling for a more inclusive process to implement the bold vision articulated in that document, as well as the 2030 Agenda, she highlighted the importance of reducing poverty, assuring stronger health systems, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and promoting gender equality, among other goals.
Recognizing the need for analysis of changing population age structures and the availability and use of high-quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated demographic data, she said that in the current environment of a persistent economic slowdown, financial instability, food insecurity, water scarcity and the adverse impacts of climate change, the Group stood ready to step up its efforts. Interdependence and multilateralism are essential in addressing population and development matters in an integrated manner, she stressed.
ION JINGA (Romania), speaking on behalf of the European Union, recalling how the Programme of Action adopted in Cairo broke new ground in the efforts to advance key aspects of human development, with States agreeing that reproductive rights embrace certain human rights, said that the bloc remains committed to the promotion and fulfilment of every individual’s right to have full control over and decide freely on matters related to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health. While there have been many advances since 1994, challenges remained, and further, urbanization, substantially reduced child mortality, changing age structures in general and population ageing in particular, burgeoning migration and the impact of climate change are opening up new challenges and opportunities on a global scale.
Human rights are at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Cairo commitments, he said, adding that ensuring the respect, protection and fulfilment of universal human rights for all, gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, and ending discrimination and racism in all its forms, is vital for the achievement of sustainable development and poverty eradication. Citing examples of the Union’s commitment, he noted the delivery of €1.5 billion over the past six months to support bilateral health programmes in 17 countries, and the fact that 30 per cent of the bloc’s health aid is spent on sexual, reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health.
HALA MOSTAFA ELSAID ZAID, Minister for Health and Population of Egypt, reviewed the progress her country has made since the Cairo Conference, including special attention given to health care and striking a balance between economic development and available resources. She said that many challenges remain to be overcome, however, asking Member States to join hands and provide the funding needed to ensure universal provision of family planning services, especially in marginalized countries. She went on to call for financial support to promote the empowerment of women.
ISIDORO SANTANA, Minister for Economy, Planning and Development of the Dominican Republic, associating himself with the Group of 77, said a panoply of policies has helped his country to reduce extreme poverty, adding that investment in primary and secondary education has doubled. Challenges going forward include bettering the quality of education and broadening care services for the elderly. He emphasized the need for technical and financial support from multilateral organizations, including United Nations agencies, to achieve development goals.
SLAVICA ĐUKIĆ DEJANOVIĆ (Serbia), aligning herself with the European Union, said that her Government established the Office of Demography and Population Policy in 2016 when the lowest birth rate in the country’s recent history was recorded. The Government adopted a new birth promotion strategy the following year with eight specific targets. A new law was enacted to reduce the economic costs of childbearing. Its recently adopted national programme on sexual and reproductive health addresses unreliable contraceptive methods, a growing number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions and high-risk sexual activities, and proposes a set of effective prevention, education and counselling measures. The Government introduced a family-friendly award for companies that provide a supportive environment for parents and their children. Serbia’s population is declining due to the falling birth rate, higher mortality and emigration. A study on student migrations showed the lack of jobs, low pay and a poor standard of living as the main reasons for emigration.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed commitment to the comprehensive framework established by the 2030 Agenda, as well as the 1994 Programme of Action. Noting fundamental challenges to regional development, he said that Africa is a crucial part of the demographic shift around the world. With good policies, this shift could also be an opportunity, he noted, adding that the Group is committed to ensuring that “none of our citizens are left behind”. Acknowledging that States are limited in their capacity to provide employment and guarantee livelihoods, he said the Group is taking steps to ensure that policymakers on the continent consider demographic realities.
Stressing the need to respond to new challenges such as migration trends, he said that changing household and family structures affect sustainable development. It is critical to invest in people, especially youth, he said, adding that Africa’s large young population called for investments in education, vocational training, science and technology, research and innovation. Calling for increased official development assistance (ODA), he emphasized the crucial role of UNFPA in assisting members based on their developmental needs. Migration is a multidimensional reality with impact on countries of origin, transit and destination, he said, and it is necessary to cooperate internationally to ensure safe and orderly migration, safeguarding the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status.
ERNESTO PERNIA (Philippines), sharing his country’s policy and outcome milestones achieved “within the context of challenging political and cultural factors”, noted that the growth rate has declined to 1.76 per cent. Fertility decline was facilitated by increasing the use of modern methods of contraceptive from 38 per cent in 2013 to 40 per cent in 2017. Unprecedentedly, there are now more rural women than urban women who are using modern family planning methods, he said, adding that the Philippines “is no longer the economic laggard in our region”. Further, to ensure better health outcomes among the country’s people, the Government has just enacted a universal health-care law, he said.
MILA CAROVSKA, Minister for Labour and Social Policy of North Macedonia, said that while her country has achieved upper-middle-income status, it remains committed to addressing the needs of those left further behind. A census planned for 2020 will provide fresh data on which to work from. Investments are being made in evidence-based maternity practices and no-charge contraception, and the Government also plans to introduce comprehensive sexuality education and a liberal abortion law. Recognizing the importance of an active and healthy elderly population, North Macedonia is cooperating with other States in the region to learn from each other and implement best practices, she said.
Introduction of Reports
JORGE BRAVO, Chief, Population Policy and Development Branch, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introducing the report of the Secretary-General on “Review and appraisal of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/CN.9/2019/2), said that there is much to celebrate about the past 25 years. That includes greater access to sexual and reproductive health care, the reduction of child and maternal mortality, the extension of life expectancy, increased standards of living and improved access to education. At the same time, the world’s population is becoming larger, older, more mobile and more spatially concentrated than ever before. The global population growth rate has continued to decline since the 1994 Cairo meeting, he said, noting that it will likely continue to be positive through the second half of the twenty-first century. Access to sexual and reproductive health, including to modern contraception, is still far from universal, he said, adding that “the good news is that the proportion of married women with unmet family planning needs has been progressively declining since Cairo.” Population trends should feature prominently in voluntary national reviews presented at the high-level political forum on sustainable development, he stressed.
BENOIT KALASA, Director, Technical Division, United Nations Population Fund, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Monitoring of population programmes, focusing on the review and appraisal of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up on and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/CN.9/2019/3). Summarizing key messages from the report, he said respect for reproductive rights, women’s empowerment and better health and education offer the most effective means to promote smaller families. Development also helps people acquire the knowledge skills to address climate change. Irrespective of population growth, patterns of consumption and emissions must be urgently addressed. Combatting gender stereotypes calls for successful programming against gender-based violence. Maternal health remains a challenge and non-communicable diseases are on the rise. He went on to say that it will be hard to achieve a demographic dividend without greater access to quality education and decent jobs, and that responses to climate change must heed lessons from the Cairo Conference.
RACHEL SNOW, Chief of the Population and Development Branch of the United Nations Population Fund, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the “Flow of financial resources for assisting in the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development” (document E/CN.9/2019/4). She said that the report, prepared in accordance with General Assembly resolution 49/128, provides information on the latest trends in ODA in areas of central importance to the Programme of Action, including sexual and reproductive health – comprising reproductive health, family planning and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and population data and policy analysis. The amount of ODA provided by member States of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and population data and policy analysis has levelled off since about 2007, she said. The traditional donors remain by far the most important ones, she noted, also adding that the analysis of ODA allocations to sexual and reproductive health between 2015 and 2016 shows only a slight increase — between these years it grew from $4.40 to $4.50 per woman of reproductive age in the developing world.
GLORIA MONTENEGRO FIGUEROA, Minister for Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru, said her country has made progress in poverty reduction, combatting chronic malnutrition and child mortality, improving reading and math skills in primary schoolchildren, and the use of modern contraceptive measures. Challenges remain, however, including persistent gender-based violence, a high rate of teenage pregnancy and a high level of anaemia, which has prompted a “national crusade” to overcome that problem.
HÉCTOR LEONEL AYALA, Minister for Governance, Justice and Decentralization of Honduras, said his country faces enormous challenges in implementing the Programme of Action. In line with the 2030 Agenda, it is working to recover peace, generate investment and employment opportunities, assist families in extreme poverty and fight corruption. Small-scale interventions among families will lead to great transformations, such as better houses, he said, adding that Honduras adopted in 2018 a plan to adapt to and mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
SUSAN SHABANGU, Minister for Social Development of South Africa, stressing that the current discussion is taking place in a world characterized by extremism, national populism, authoritarian ideologies and the undermining of multilateralism, lamented the stark contradiction between what needs to be done and the political will to do it. Access to health care, including reproductive health, is recognized in her country’s Constitution, she said, stressing that the Government is committed to achieving universal health coverage through a national health insurance plan that has improved the quality of life of its citizens. Turning to migration, she said that South Africa introduced a new international migration policy based on a whole-society approach. Her country is home to many migrants and has adopted policies to ensure safe and orderly migration.
AÏSSATA ISSA MAÏGA AMADOU, Minister for Population of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that her country’s national legislation guarantees human rights. All international and regional commitments have been translated into national and sectoral policies and programmes. Currently, Niger is increasing reserved quotas for women in Government and is strengthening education programmes targeting women and girls. Since 2013, the Government, with support from UNFPA, has implemented an initiative that delays child marriage and prevents early pregnancies, thereby reducing maternal mortality. Another initiative, the “Future Husbands Club”, provides education for young men in sexual and reproductive health and aims to improve their attitudes towards gender issues.
SOUPHANH KEOMIXAY, Minister of Planning and Investment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said the pathway to success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is through human development. Crucial to equitable and sustainable development, the Programme of Action emphasizes investing in the well-being of all segments of the population. To ensure its effective implementation, his Government has integrated it into both its national socioeconomic development plan and its implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite numerous achievements, the country faces various challenges as a least-developed and landlocked country, including high adolescent pregnancy rates and an unmet need for contraceptives. To address these challenges, the Government recognizes the need to invest in its 1.6 million young people, develop macro policies for labour and social welfare and work with the private sector.
MYINT HTWE, Minister for Health and Sport of Myanmar, said his country is “very serious” about implementing the Programme of Action. Emphasizing that people are entitled to healthy and productive lives in harmony with nature, he said developing countries face mounting health-related challenges and called on the international community and United Nations agencies to provide unwavering support. Noting that young people aged 10 to 24 make up a third of Myanmar’s population, he said they represent a great asset for realizing a demographic dividend and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
BOCCHIT EDMOND, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Haiti, said a systemic, global and integrated approach to population issues, combined with a human rights perspective, makes it possible to address such concerns as sexual and reproductive health, family planning, child and maternal mortality, gender equality and empowerment of women. The Programme of Action has made it possible for Haiti to move forward on gender equality, women’s empowerment and girls’ education, he said, noting a reduction in the national fertility rate but also an increase in cases of physical violence against women. More attention must be given to providing financial resources to small island developing States, he added.
REINA BUIJIS (Netherlands), associating herself with the European Union, stressed that to fulfil the promise made 25 years ago in Cairo, there needed to be more investment in gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. Her country, in efforts to exceed the goals set forth by the International Conference and the 2030 Agenda, has already achieved one of the world’s lowest rates in teenage pregnancies, abortions and HIV infections, respectively. But more remains to be done, including more consistent comprehensive sexuality education at schools. Challenges also facing the Netherlands include ageing society; growing pressure of unpaid care work, especially on women; and rising health-care costs, she said, adding that the adoption of a regional monitoring framework last year was a major success.
LI CUI (China) said that her country has been actively promoting the Cairo commitments in the 25 years since that Conference. The health of her country’s citizens has been improving, she said, noting that the maternal mortality rate had dropped to 18.3 per 100,000 women. The Government follows a comprehensive strategy for population development, including by providing better services and actively responding to the challenges of the ageing population. Further, the country is implementing the Healthy China Strategy, she said, calling on nations to formulate population policies at the highest possible level of Government and promote sustained economic growth.
ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) said that sustainable development is impossible without resolving the problems posed by demographic changes. Given the declining birth rates and rapidly ageing population in his country, the Government is actively working towards the stabilization of the demographic situation and is revising the State demographic policy. Belarus provides incentives to families to have more children, such as housing for all multi-child families in need and additional pension guarantees for women raising four or more children, he said. Further, the country is seeking to increase the lifespan of Belarusians and improving child mortality rates. The Government is developing a special State policy for older people, aimed at active longevity, he noted.
ROBERT M.K. CHAKANDA, (Sierra Leone) said the situation in his country reflects a global trend. With 75 per cent of its population under the age 35, serious challenges arise from rapid urbanization fuelled by a rural exodus of youth to cities. To address such challenges – particularly regarding jobs, sustainable development and the delivery of social services - investments must be made in health, including sexual and reproductive health. However, with an annual growth rate of 3.2 per cent and a fertility rate of 5.6 children per woman, there is little fiscal space to invest in basic social services. Nonetheless, Sierra Leone has made significant strides, including adopting laws to eradicate gender discrimination, launching a strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy and revising its population policies. Moreover, human capital is at the centre of a new national development plan, he said, underscoring his country’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and to the full implementation of the Programme of Action.
CHRIS BARYOMUNSI, Minister of State for Housing, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development of Uganda, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, and stressing the importance of South-South cooperation, said his country has reduced its infant and maternal mortality while raising life expectancy to 63 years in 2014. However, its high fertility rate of 5.4 children per woman results in an unfavourable population age structure that is not conducive for poverty eradication and sustainable development. Teenage pregnancy due to early marriage, cultural practices and poverty is another challenge. He noted the efforts the Government is making to address those problems, including a review of its 2008 national population policy.
ALEJANDRO ENCINAS RODRÍGUEZ (Mexico) said public policies that improve people’s quality of life must be strengthened. While data indicates improvements over the past 25 years, big gaps remain to be bridged, he said, citing for example sexual and reproductive health services for Mexico’s indigenous and rural populations and those of African descent. Affirming his Government’s commitment to promoting development with a human rights approach, he said the mobilization of national and international resources are essential to ensuring the population and development agenda in full.
HASSAN BASHIR (Nigeria) said that it is crucial to address the unfinished agenda of the Cairo Programme of Action. His country has revised its national policy on population to align with the 2030 Agenda and has inaugurated the N28 Billion Special Health Intervention Project in 2018 to strengthen health systems. The estimated population of Nigeria is currently more than 198 million with an annual growth rate of 3.2 per cent. The total fertility rate remains at 5.5 per woman and unintended and unwanted pregnancies are common, he noted. The lack of availability of timely information and robust disaggregated data for tracking progress remains a challenge, he pointed out, soliciting collaboration with international development agencies to conduct a national census.
HICHAM NEJMI, Secretary-General for the Ministry of Health of Morocco, said that since the adoption of the Cairo Programme of Action, his country has achieved tremendous progress in improving the quality of life of its population, including women and children. The national initiative for human development is in its third phase and is refocusing its programmes to promote the welfare of younger generations and protect those in vulnerable categories. Further, retirement and health are important priorities for the Government, and Morocco has established health coverage for 60 per cent of the population. Fighting AIDS and improving maternal health are other major national concerns, he noted, adding that the Government is also improving its legal toolkit on gender equality.
Mr. UDDIN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country’s population has increased five-fold from 29 million in 1901 to 170 million in 2018, and the nation is in the third stage of the demographic transition model defined by low birth rate and low death rate. Having achieved great success in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, Bangladesh is on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the past decade, it has maintained an economic growth rate of 7 per cent, and the life expectancy has increased to 72. It envisions becoming a middle-income State by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. In this journey, the country depends on the youth who now constitute 30 per cent of the population. Yet, the Government must forge partnerships to address the multidimensional nature of poverty, invest more in health coverage and sexual and reproductive health. It has been a huge burden to provide support, including health and family planning, for nearly 1.1 million Rohingyas, he said, emphasizing that the solution lies in their safe return to their motherland — Myanmar.
CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta) said that gender inequality deprives women and girls of their basic rights and opportunities. Calling for greater efforts to empower them, he said mainstreaming gender equality into priority areas of action is a “step in the right direction”. Nevertheless, the lack of access to reproductive health care remains one of the main barriers to achieving real gender equality and in ensuring that women are empowered to participate fully in their communities. For its part, Malta is fully committed to providing women with access to reproductive health. However, his Government persistently objects to any interpretation of sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexual and reproductive health services under international law as including abortion, as this goes against the right to life, which is paramount, he stressed.
ANAT FISHER TSIN (Israel) said there must be no barrier, official or otherwise, to women and girls achieving their full potential because of their gender. “It has been clearly shown that the best interests of women are the best interests of us all,” she said, adding that gender equality is a fundamental human right that needs no further justification. Israel has made huge advances in gender equality and, in a region where women are often excluded from public life, it stands out as a beacon of democracy and equality, she said. She added that in an era of globalization, a lack of vision and planning in one country will, sooner or later, be felt by its neighbours and beyond. Only by working together can the ambitious goals set out by the International Conference be achieved, she said.
* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release POP/1077 of 13 April 2018.