Sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the role of the family in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, came under the spotlight today as delegates to the Commission on Population and Development continued to reflect on the progress the world has made in the 25 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the adoption of its Programme of Action.
“When women do better, families do better. When families do better, communities do better,” said the representative of the United States on the third day of the Commission’s fifty-second session at Headquarters. Sharing that view, her counterpart from Poland affirmed that support for families is an investment in social capital that leads to higher social well-being.
Iceland’s speaker urged Member States to focus more on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, eliminating all harmful practices and violence against women, and speeding up progress towards universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion.
Relating her own experiences, the representative of the Danish Family Planning Association said it is unacceptable, 25 years after the adoption of the Programme of Action, that a woman’s chances of surviving childbirth or cervical cancer remains a matter of luck of where she was born. “Bodily autonomy, the right to decide over your sexuality and control your fertility, is crucial for people’s well-being, for their ability to realize their potential and for sustainable development as such,” she said.
Nauru’s delegate said international development assistance must not be contingent on ideological colonization or the imposition of ideas that run contrary to core societal values. Nauru does not view the promotion of abortion as a means of achieving sustainable development, she said, adding that developed countries must acknowledge their responsibility in pursuing sustainable development.
The representative of India, the world’s second most populous nation after China, said her country is among the first to launch a comprehensive programme for its adolescent population of 250 million, focusing on reproductive and menstrual health management, nutrition, mental health and substance abuse. As a step towards universal health coverage, India launched the world’s largest public health-care programme in 2018, covering nearly 500 million people, she added.
While some speakers highlighted the untapped potential of Africa’s predominantly youthful populations, others underscored the challenges posed by a growing number of older citizens. Chile’s delegate, for one, said his Government has introduced the concept of “positive ageing”, focusing on the rights of older persons and changing the way they are perceived in society. The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, noted the economic and social costs associated with an ageing population, such as less tax revenue for public investments.
The representative of Ghana, among other speakers from Africa, set out the practical steps being taken in her country, including increased access to secondary education and the expansion of technical and vocational training. The country has also established national guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education. Funding, however, remains a big constraint, she added, highlighting the importance of strong partnerships among Government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, academic and development partners.
Emphasizing the need to breathe new life into efforts to achieve sustainability for all, Nicaragua’s representative said solidarity with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is not fully reflected, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a minority and inequality on the rise. Affirming that strengthening families is the most effective social protection policy of all, she called on developed countries to commit 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to official development assistance.
The Permanent Observer of the Holy See said the International Conference recognized the family, based on marriage, as the fundamental unity of society, entitled to support and protection. Suggesting that reproductive rights include a right to abortion violates the language of the Cairo conference, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations and runs contrary to efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially the unborn, he added.
In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive dialogue on the theme “On the Road to 2030: The continuing relevance of the International Conference on Population and Development.” Panellists discussed, among other things, the impact of population growth on the environment, gender-based violence, the role of faith-based organizations and the next steps that need to be taken.
Also speaking today were senior officials and representatives of Luxembourg, Sudan, Brazil, Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, Albania, Colombia, Togo, Zambia, Gambia, Azerbaijan, Madagascar, Pakistan, Chad, Mauritius, Senegal and Liberia.
Representatives of the International Labour Organization, World Food Programme, International Organization for Migration, League of Arab States, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Partners in Population and Development, Economic Commission for Europe, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the Economic Commission for Africa also spoke.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 April to consider the Secretariat’s programme of work in the field of population.
CHRISTIAN BRAUN (Luxembourg), aligning himself with the European Union and the Netherlands, which spoke on behalf of 48 countries, stressed his Government’s commitment to full implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. About 50 per cent of his country’s population were born outside the country. A priority at the national level is to empower women and girls. His Government has an independent ministry to ensure gender equality and that women are fairly represented in decision-making processes. The Government devotes 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to population and development. Unfortunately, across the world, the rights of women and girls are threatened by policies that jeopardize gains made over the past years.
PAULOMI TRIPATHI (India) said that her country is among the first nations to launch a comprehensive programme for its adolescent population of 250 million, focusing on reproductive and menstrual health management, nutrition, mental health and substance abuse. As a step towards providing universal health coverage, India launched the world’s largest public health-care programme in September 2018, covering nearly 500 million people. Her Government has taken numerous other measures, including intensifying immunization programmes, improving the quality of education and empowering women.
LIMIA ABDELGAFAR KHALAFLLA AHMED (Sudan), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said his Government has undertaken several measures to implement the Programme of Action as it works to provide services and economic opportunities to its 42 million people, a number that — given the high percentage of youth and high fertility rate — is forecast to rise to 58 million by 2030. To benefit from the demographic dividend, a road map for investment in youth has been adopted, focused on innovation, education and increasing the political and social participation of young people. While the rate of maternal deaths has gone down, it is still considered too high, he said, adding that unemployment and poverty among women, especially in rural and conflict areas, is increasing.
KAZIMIERZ KUBERSKI (Poland) said his country’s national health programme is based on operational objectives that contribute to increasing life expectancy and improving quality of life. The Constitution ensures special protection by the State for pregnant women. Epidemiological studies have shown rising life expectancy and a decline in mortality from most causes, he said, with a decline in lung cancer among young and middle-aged men being a major success in recent years. Introducing the Government’s “Family 500 Plus” programme, he said well-functioning families create better conditions for life and development. “Support for families is an investment in human capital and leads to higher social well-being,” he added.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), acknowledging the contributions made by the Programme of Action, said that her Government is the largest bilateral donor and supports the objectives set by the 1994 document. The Secretary-General’s report highlights progress made, such as increased life expectancy, greater access to education and empowerment of women. “When women do better, families do better. When families do better, communities do better,” she said. But progress has been uneven. Closing these gaps requires the collection of accurate disaggregated data. Her Government programmes target 25 high-priority countries, save millions of lives, including 5 million children, and help those countries on their journey to self-reliance. The United States Agency for International Development is designed to help bilateral partners solve their own challenges.
ANGELA VIDAL GANDRA DA SILVA (Brazil) said that her country’s population of more than 200 million makes it the fifth most populated nation in the world. “We see our people as a richness,” she said, noting that the Government has undertaken numerous measures to give its citizens quality of life and choice, starting with education and work. Infant mortality has declined from 42.9 per 1,000 births in 1994 to 12.9 in 2017 and life expectancy increased from 65 to 76 years over the same period. Brazil enacted the Law of Guidelines and Bases of Education in 1996, practically achieving universal elementary education. President Jair Bolsonaro is determined to ensure health coverage for overlooked groups towards universal health coverage.
STEFANO STEFANILE (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said the world’s population is getting larger, older, more mobile and more urbanized. Italy is experiencing some of those mega-trends that are having a major impact on the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda. Bottlenecks and inequalities must be addressed, he said, and challenges turned into opportunities. Africa’s “youth bulge” must be turned into an opportunity to unlock the potential of young Africans and put them at the heart of their countries’ sustainable development. He went on to underscore the role that men and boys can play in accelerating gender equality and the empowerment of women.
PETER MARTIN LEHMANN NIELSEN (Denmark), associating himself with the European Union, said his country is proud to be co-hosting the Nairobi Summit to Advance the International Conference on Population and Development, to be held from 12-14 November.
He then turned the floor over to METTE KIRSTINE SCHMIDT of the Danish Family Planning Association, who — recalling her own personal experiences — said it is unacceptable, 25 years after the adoption of the Progamme of Action, that a woman’s chances of surviving childbirth or cervical cancer remains a matter of luck of where she was born. It is time for Governments to invest more in the promises they made at the Cairo conference, she said, especially regarding advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. “Bodily autonomy, the right to decide over your sexuality and control your fertility, is crucial for people’s well-being, for their ability to realize their potential and for sustainable development as such,” she said. While Denmark is a strong supporter of the Programme of Action both politically and financially, some challenges remain, she said, pointing to uneven comprehensive sexuality education in schools and the need to address the sexual health of older people, including breaking down taboos. She added that discussions among Member States on universal health care must include sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to safe and legal abortion, and be contained in integrated services packages.
RAFLA TEJ (Tunisia), associating herself with the European Union and the African Group, expressed her Government’s full support to the implementation of the Programme of Action. Stressing the need to protect rights of the youth, women and other vulnerable groups, she said that empowering women can help eradicate poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Today, 35 per cent of its parliamentarians are women. She outlined numerous measures undertaken by her Government, including the establishment of a law of equality in inheritance and reproductive health programmes. Her Government works closely with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). If young people are uneducated about their sexuality and bodies, they will fail to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.
ELMAHDI S. ELMAJERBI (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that 2019 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Programme of Action, and thus it is important for the international community to show collective solidarity. People in Syria and other places under foreign occupation need assistance. Stressing the importance of investing in human capital, he also emphasized strong interlinkages between the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. People are the agents and beneficiaries of those goals. His delegation looks forward to reform of the United Nations development system. International migration has become a major contributor to demographic growth. Expressing reservations about the Global Compact for Migration adopted in 2018, he said his Government has not signed it because the Compact could negatively impact transit countries like his through illegal and unsafe migration.
BERGDÍS ELLERTSDÓTTIR (Iceland), noting that the world today is facing the largest-ever generation of adolescents, said evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education will foster gender equality, mutual respect, non-discrimination and non-violence. It will also prevent unwanted pregnancies, slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and keep boys and girls in school. She urged Member States to put more focus on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, to eliminate all harmful practices and violence against women, and speed up progress towards achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to safe and legal abortion.
PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), associating herself with the Group of 77, and noting that 13 per cent of her Caribbean country’s population is aged 60 and over, emphasized the economic and social costs associated with an ageing population, including less tax revenue for public investments. Other challenges for Trinidad and Tobago include a significant dependency on oil and gas revenues, the effects of climate change and urbanization, and an ongoing brain drain. Progress has nevertheless been made, she said, including setting the legal age of marriage at 18, developing a national ageing policy and launching a mobile app that enables young people to access sexual and reproductive health services.
MARIE-MAY LEON (Seychelles) said her country faces many challenges, including a high youth unemployment rate at 22.5 per cent, a shortage of labour for less skilled jobs and a lack of access for youth to reproductive health services. The system of social protection is focused on the elderly at the expense of young people who are unable to enter the job market. The incidence of gender-based violence is significant, with 58 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men being victims of violence based on gender in their lifetime. The Government has put a national policy in place for sexual reproductive health and has signed the first-ever strategic partnership framework with the United Nations to further implement the Cairo Programme of Action.
MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) said that her country has a consistent national policy, based on human rights, to implement population and development goals. Its sustainable development strategy covers a period through 2040. Her delegation is fully aware that health care is a human right and key to living a quality life. The Government adopted numerous measures, including a programme for public health and mental health through 2030. It aims to provide quality services throughout their lives. The Government also enacted legislation in 2017 to prevent domestic violence, giving law enforcement more opportunities to intervene, and adopted a gender equality plan through 2020 to place more women in the economic and political circles and other fields.
EASTON WILLIAMS (Jamaica), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country’s population growth borders on zero with fertility at or near replacement level. Life expectancy is around 74 years, with a rapidly ageing population and declining youth. There is also substantially fewer deaths due to HIV/AIDS and mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and near-universal contraceptive use. He credited much of that success to incorporation in 1995 of the Programme of Action. However, he noted that Jamaica is still lagging in full, holistic integration of sexual reproductive health into its primary care system. Fertility levels among youth remain unacceptably high and more must be done addressing maternal mortality. As well, there are high rates of external migration, with losses of highly educated and skilled human resources annually, which is being addressed. Nonetheless, Jamaica has one of the world’s highest female employment rates in managerial and technical jobs.
RODRIGO A. CARAZO (Costa Rica) said achieving genuine development requires focusing State action on people, tailoring services to their needs and enabling them to make free and informed decisions. Costa Rica is focusing its efforts on helping the most vulnerable with social policies that respect human rights and aim to eliminate exclusion, poverty, discrimination and inequality. Efforts to enhance high-quality health services include the provision of user-friendly health services for young people as well as a legal framework that outlaws abusive relationships. He underscored his country’s efforts to promote the empowerment of women, whose contributions to the economy will help to narrow development gaps.
Mr. BAMBARA (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, outlined some of the measures taken by his country, including the revitalization of primary health care and, in 2019, the universalization of health insurance. Family planning efforts aim to bring to 32 per cent the use of modern contraceptives by 2020. The Government, which decided in 2018 to introduce free family planning, has stepped up efforts to combat climate change and address natural hazards. It has also adopted a zero-tolerance policy on female genital mutilation and child marriage and sought to counter violence and extremism.
INGRIT PRIZRENI (Albania), aligning herself with the European Union and the Netherlands, which spoke on behalf of 48 countries, said her Government fully remains committed to implementation of the Cairo and Beijing documents. In her country, sexuality education is part of the primary and secondary school curriculum. This has brought many successes, including a decrease in the maternity mortality rate. Her Government believes that access to reproductive health is a human right, and therefore seeks to include marginalized groups. To address population-related challenges, the Government continues to update policy frameworks and oversight mechanisms. Civil society plays a role in holding the Government accountable.
FRANCISCO ALBERTO GONZALEZ (Colombia), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said that the Cairo agenda provides valuable guides and therefore the impetus created by the instrument must be maintained. He said that his country’s commitment to the Programme of Action is steadfast. Regarding reproductive health, Colombia has undertaken some measures, including empowering women. His delegation agrees with the Secretary-General’s report on the need to develop population and development policies. Colombia’s national development plan addresses the needs of older persons, persons with disability and other marginalized groups, he said, stressing the need for an inclusive strategy to transform society and achieve sustainable development. In this regard, the Commission plays an important role.
PRISCILLA JEHU-APPIAH DONKOR (Ghana), associating herself with the Group of 77, affirmed her country’s commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The key policy objectives and strategies in Ghana’s medium-term national development policy are linked to the specific goals of both the global and the continent’s agendas. In terms of practical steps, Ghana is implementing a free senior high school intervention to increase access to secondary education, and expansion of technical and vocational education and training. The country has also developed and adopted national guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education. There are challenges in implementing some commitments as funding remains one of the biggest constraints. She spotlighted several review mechanisms Ghana is undertaking and the role of national surveys in gathering data on maternal health and living standards, which have made it possible to track and report on basic indicators. She also highlighted the importance of strong partnerships among Government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and academic and development partners.
ALINA JULIA ARGÜELLO GONZÁLEZ (Nicaragua), associating herself with the Group of 77, emphasized the need to breathe new life into efforts to achieve sustainable development for all. Solidarity with the 2030 Agenda is not fully reflected, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a minority and inequality on the rise. Noting that Nicaragua is ranked high in terms of gender equality, she said that strengthening families is the effective social protection policy of all. She went on to call on developed countries to commit 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA).
ENYONAM VICTORINEBADOHOUN EPSE WOMITSO (Togo), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, noted her country’s progress in reducing the fertility, maternal and child mortality rates over the years. The Government has established a ministry to promote women’s rights that ensures, among other things, access to land for women living in rural areas. Noting Togo’s plans for its fifth national census, to be conducted in 2020, she appealed for strengthened global partnership to improve the availability of statistics in developing countries.
CHARLES BANDA (Zambia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that the Programme of Action provides linkages between population and development. The Secretary-General’s report highlights that the 1994 International Conference was a paradigm shift from focusing on the number of human beings to the quality of human lives, a shift that requires investment in human capital. This Commission’s theme for 2019 is important for introspection. Zambia has scaled up interventions in maternal health care, achieving a significant reduction in infant mortality rates. Family planning is a priority for the Government. The increased use of contraceptives points to a success of the country’s family planning programme. Other improvements include enactment of the health insurance act, improvement of access to universal health coverage and an increase in student enrolment from 2011 to 2016 due to the reintroduction of free primary school education.
RENÉ ALFONSO RUIDIAZ PÉREZ (Chile) acknowledged achievements made by the Programme of Action, stressing the importance of an inclusive and holistic approach. Chile is making progress on the implementation of the Programme of Action through public policy. The Montevideo Declaration serves as a regional guide for Latin America and the Caribbean. During a third review meeting held in Lima, Peru, his Government presented a voluntary review report. The President of his country made comprehensive development for all a national priority. Over the last decade, the country’s living standards improved. Amid the demographic change, Chile introduced a concept of “positive ageing”, focusing on rights of older persons and changing the way they are perceived in society.
MARIMA NJIE (Gambia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said the aspirations of the International Conference are still alive and enjoy her Government’s support. Emphasizing that universal access to health care is a prerequisite for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, she said the Government is demonstrating strong political will in providing quality and affordable health care, with its efforts to prevent and manage malaria during pregnancy being a source of envy in the subregion. She noted progress in girls’ education, women’s empowerment and poverty reduction, as well as the elimination of female genital mutilation and child marriage following their criminalization. Insufficient resources remain a challenge, however, as does the impact of high population density on the environment and agricultural production. There is also a high unmet need for emergency obstetric care services, she added.
HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) said his country, with one of the youngest age distributions in Eastern Europe, considers youth as a great asset. The Government is therefore investing in quality education, health and employment to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend. A State programme on demographic development is meanwhile before the Cabinet, encompassing such areas as the promotion of family values, strengthening reproductive health, protecting mothers and children, and reducing rates of death and disease.
Mr. RAKOTOARISON (Madagascar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, welcomed the adoption of the political declaration adopted at the beginning of this session. He said he was born in 1994, when the Programme of Action was adopted. His Government has taken part in all follow-up processes. Over the past 25 years, his Government has expanded partnerships, especially with UNFPA, which provided policy guidance on matters, such as gender equality and health. Madagascar carried out a third census. The Government is seeking to ensure transparent budgeting to secure spending on young people and children, who represent half the population. About 64 per cent of the country’s population is under 25. Its national strategy 2018 to 2020 addresses their needs, including prevention of early pregnancies. The country’s ambitious road map requires mobilization of domestic and other resources.
ENOLA GAY ANADELLA EDWARD (Nauru), noting the Commission’s failure at past sessions to agree on a political declaration, said many sensitive issues are best dealt with at the national level. Underscoring Nauru’s improvements in infant and maternal mortality rates and health-care service delivery, she said the Government is focused on, among other things, strengthening the family, providing quality education, empowering women and protecting the climate. In a world of economic, political and ecological uncertainty, the one constant for Nauru is its identity, she said. It is therefore crucial that international development assistance not be contingent on ideological colonization or the imposition of ideas that run contrary to its core societal values. She added that Nauru does not view the promotion of abortion as a means of achieving sustainable development. Abortion is a great departure from long-established religious and societal norms in Nauru and many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and that dynamic must be respected. She went on to encourage development partners to do more to promote economic growth and narrow imbalances, emphasizing that developed countries must acknowledge their responsibility in pursuing sustainable development. The persistent development challenges of small island developing States require enhanced global partnership and easy access to means of implementation.
Mr. ALI (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country is undergoing dynamic and multifaceted changes, with the new Government taking steps to reduce poverty and increase employment opportunities. The national population policy has been reviewed and significant strides are being made in social protection, which is a human right, he said, adding that the welfare of all citizens at all stages of life in Pakistan is essential.
The Commission then held an interactive dialogue on the theme “On the Road to 2030: The continuing relevance of the International Conference on Population and Development.” Moderated by Fred Pearce, it featured contributions by Alex Ezeh, Professor and Founding Director, African Population and Health Research Center; María Antonieta Alcalde, Director of Advocacy, International Planned Parenthood Federation; Leiwen Jiang, Professor and Founding Director, Asian Demographic Research Institute at Shanghai University, and Senior Associate of the Population Council; and Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary, ACT Alliance.
Mr. PEARCE said that as journalist for New Scientist magazine, he attended the Cairo conference in 1994 and its predecessor in Mexico City a decade earlier. Whereas the Mexico City conference was dominated by men and concern about population control, Cairo saw the participation of more women and a focus on reproductive rights. Since Cairo, dozens of countries have seen women and couples adopting contraception for the first time, he added. “Most countries have been experiencing a reproductive revolution,” he said, and the population bomb is being defused through female empowerment. But there are still gaps in the implementation of the Programme of Action that need to be addressed, he said, with the panel discussing further contributions to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
Mr. BUENO DE FARIA said that as a faith- and rights-based alliance, ACT Alliance understands that all people should enjoy the same human rights. Gender injustice and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights are key issues that must be urgently addressed, he said, adding that everyone should be free to responsibly decide on matters related to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health. Emphasizing that faith-based organizations are significant actors in the delivery of health and social services, he said faith communities recognize that there is a “contested reality” in United Nations discussions on population and development, but on the ground, they see the results of lack of access and work every day to ensure people do not get left behind. Given a worldwide backlash against gender equality, ACT Alliance is focusing on creating a space for progressive voices to address sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality while also engaging with “voices on the fence” and harnessing the positive role that faith-based organizations can play.
Mr. EZEH said that some of the health-related indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals are easy to track and monitor, such as child health indicators, but others — like coverage of essential health services — are complex and difficult to measure. While globally there has been much progress in several areas, it has been uneven within nations, between countries and across regions. Progress has also been uneven in different aspects of the same health area, he added. One thing that has been consistent, however, is that the countries that have made the most progress in achieving their targets are those where inequities in health care access and health outcomes have been reduced the most. Summarizing the most urgent priorities going forward, he cited inequity in all its forms and the need to acknowledge that the major drivers of health outcomes — such as air pollution, climate change, fragile and vulnerable settings, antimicrobial resistance and vaccine hesitancy — will require expertise beyond health care and clinical practice.
Ms. ALCALDE said that the Programme of Action is an extraordinary document, but there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed, including gender-based violence, inequalities and forced pregnancy. Violence against women is a pandemic, as the #MeToo movement showed. Sadly, it is a global challenge. Every second, a woman is beaten or assaulted, meaning that by the end of this panel discussion, more than 5,000 women had been attacked. Every year, millions of women and girls are forced to continue their pregnancies due to a lack of access to safe and legal abortion. Millions of people face discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation, or because they are migrants, unmarried mothers or part of certain ethnic groups or indigenous populations. Four key interventions are: comprehensive sexuality education; access to sexual and reproductive health services; access to safe and legal abortion; and civil society participation. Any investment in youth goes a long way.
Mr. JIANG said that human population is at the centre of sustainable development, and evidence is clear that population trends strongly interact with socioeconomic development and environmental changes. Asia accounts for more than half the world’s population, has the highest population density and has experienced the most rapid economic growth in recent decades. Population growth, combined with industrialization, urbanization and changing consumption behaviours has fundamentally changed the environmental systems, causing severe air pollution, water scarcity, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. Unfortunately, “we now see that Asia is a leader in global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions”, while the continent’s people suffer the most severe impacts of climate variability and change, including sea level rise, tropical cyclones, floods and droughts, and heatwaves, he warned. It is essential for policymakers and programmers to understand that different groups of population contribute differently to environmental degradation and have different vulnerability and capacity to adapt to the environmental changes. The global community needs to help the regions and people cope with environmental risks, through promoting regional cooperation for technological innovation and application and advocating for behavioural changes in saving resources and supporting greener consumption patterns.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, the representative of Germany said her delegation understands why the Programme of Action is a reason for celebration, stressing the importance of fulfilment of human rights, self-determination and empowerment of women. Health is a precondition for sustainable development. She asked panellists how a recommended package of reproductive health services is part of universal health coverage and what would be the ideal outcome of the upcoming Nairobi Summit.
The representative of Brazil stressed the importance of supporting and investing in families. The Government will not intervene in family affairs but support intergenerational solidarity.
The representative of Cuba said the road to 2030 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is not possible without achieving the goals set in Cairo 25 years ago. He stressed the need for the Commission to fulfil its political and technical aspects of mandates.
Ms. ALCALDE said that the key outcome she wishes to see at the Nairobi Summit are political documents with commitments from Governments, United Nations entities, civil society and other stakeholders, and a clear idea to accelerate progress.
Mr. EZEH said that countries have different capacity to implement a package of sexual and reproductive health services.
Mr. BUENO DE FARIA said that the world is seeing fundamentalism not just in terms of religion, but political and economic ones. As Cuba’s delegate pointed out, political and technical follow-up to the Programme of Action is vital.
Mr. JIANG said global challenges, such as political instability, climate change and international migration, are related to population issues, however rising nationalism is making it difficult for the global community to work together.
The representative of Argentina described her country’s national plan for preventing unintended pregnancies, which aims to inform adolescents about their sexual and reproductive rights.
The representative of Ghana said that, to look at the statistics, Africa has more to do than any other continent else on Earth. He asked what can be done to trigger more investment in health care, population management and control. If things go haywire in Africa, where hardship is pushing people to migrate, there will be zero return on investments made.
Responding, Mr. EZEH noted that Nigeria now has the world’s largest number of people living in poverty, “more than India”, while a similar trend is seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Africa needs to be able to address challenges and find a balance, he said, emphasizing what the impact could be if current family planning needs are met.
Following this exchange of views, panellists made concluding remarks.
ISSA NARDO DJABIR (Chad), associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, underscored the progress his country is making towards sustainable development, with more than half the nation’s people now having access to safe drinking water and the child mortality rate, though still too high, trending downwards. Legislation has been adopted to ban the marriage of minors and gender-based violence, while the Constitution includes references to improving human rights. Outstanding challenges include mother and child health, education, employment and population growth.
JUMOONDA SUNKUR (Mauritius) said his country is at a very advanced stage of its demographic transition, with relatively low levels of fertility and mortality. Family planning has also come a long way, with the Government providing more than half of contraceptive products. Economic growth since independence has been relatively strong, poverty has declined, and great progress has been made in gender equality. Girls who give birth can remain in school. Warning that the economic repercussions of demographic changes could be catastrophic “if we are not careful today”, he said Mauritius is working on a population policy that will address population ageing and low fertility.
BACARY DJIBA (Senegal), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, welcomed the Secretary-General’s report and stressed the link between the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda. He outlined measures undertaken by his Government, including the development of human capital, a national scholarship programme, universal health coverage and support for persons with disabilities. Senegal also seeks to reduce maternal mortality and empower women. The Government also is improving the quality of education and supporting small businesses by women and young people in the area of agriculture. The Government continues to enhance its capacity for data collection and generation by developing a national statistics system.
DANIEL WOAH GARTEH (Liberia) said it is incontestable that many developing countries are being left behind in implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Liberia continues to make strides towards achieving the goals set in the Programme of Action, with its national development plan encapsulating a five-year plan seeking among others to empower the country’s people with the tools to gain control of their lives through more equitable provision of opportunities in education, health, youth development and social protection. Liberia created the Gender, Children and Social Protection Ministry and enacted the national youth policy and the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services.
BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, recalled that the International Conference recognized the family, based on marriage, as the fundamental unity of society, entitled to comprehensive support and protection. Development remains the proper context for considering population issues. However, to formulate issues in terms of sexual and reproductive rights is to change the focus from where it should be. Suggesting that reproductive rights include a right to abortion violated the language of the International Conference, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations and defies efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially the unborn. Questions involving the transmission and nurturing of life cannot be dealt with except in relation to the good of the family, he added.
VINICIUS CARVALHO PINHEIRO, Director of United Nations Office of the International Labour Organization (ILO), outlined some solutions to implementation of both the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda, including extension of social protection, supporting labour migrants and providing decent jobs for youth. Social protection is a game changer in efforts to leave no one behind by guaranteeing income and other support. The Social Protection Floors Recommendation by ILO has been acknowledged by the Commission on Social Development, he said, encouraging the Commission on Population and Development to do the same. There are 162 million labour migrants worldwide. They contribute to development. In this regard, ILO looks forward to implementation of the Global Compact for Migration. Youth unemployment remains a global challenge, and ILO has a mandate relating to decent jobs for youth.
Ms. ELLIOTT, World Food Programme (WFP), said the consequences of hunger are devastating and hunger can stop an entire country from reaching its potential. About 821 million people are chronically food-insecure and 113 million were acutely malnourished in 2018. The numbers are daunting, but solutions exist: Investing in long-term livelihood opportunities that are inclusive, and empowering women, girls, youth, migrants, host populations and other groups at risk to become reliant on themselves. She welcomed the Commission’s decision to put food-security and nutrition on its 2020 agenda.
Mr. GORMAN-BEST, International Organization for Migration (IOM), welcomed the recognition by the Commission’s fifty-first session that well-managed migration contributes to development and economic growth and that the human rights of migrants must be upheld. The potential benefits that migration offers for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is immense, he said. However, they depend upon the conditions of migration and the extent to which all people can access safe and orderly migration as a development strategy. Warning that the current state of governance and policy — and the lack of coherence with other policy domains — unfortunately leaves many migrants behind, he said that also undermines the potential social and economic benefits of migration. Making several recommendations, he called for a rights-based approach to achieving development goals; strong institutional frameworks; improved collection and use of data; stronger collaboration across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus; and adherence to the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
DINA DOUAY, League of Arab States, noted that changes in fertility rates are having an impact on the average age of populations in Arab countries. Population diversity and economic and social factors must be considered, she said, expressing hope that the establishment of an Arab observatory on population matters will be able to adopt recommendations. She went on to stress the need to respect human rights and dignity when addressing population matters.
SABINE HENNING, Chief, Sustainable Demographic Transition Section, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), spotlighted her office’s collaborations with other United Nations entities — including the Population Division — in support of the 2030 Agenda. Describing regional commissions such as ESCAP as regional integrators, she said they bring together national, subregional and regional stakeholders and provide a platform for them to exchange views and training on the Sustainable Development Goals and related population indicators. Noting that the Chairs of the respective regional meetings were able to brief the Commission, she expressed hope that similar opportunities will arise in future sessions. ESCAP stands ready to play its role in supporting the 2030 Agenda’s implementation at the regional level, while providing critical regional perspectives on population and development issues and assisting countries to implement and monitor region-specific mandates.
BEN HAJ AISSA, Executive Director of Partners in Population and Development, said that his organization focuses its work on six priority areas, which are part of the Programme of Action, including the integration of population dynamics into national plans, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and strengthening social cohesion of migrants. One of the salient events to review progress on implementation of the Programme of Action is the International Inter-ministerial Conference on South-South Cooperation in Population and Development. In 2018, a meeting of this forum held in Indonesia adopted an outcome document, the Bali Call for Action, highlighting the renewed commitment and political will of member countries to promote South-South and triangular cooperation.
VITALIJA GAUCAITE WITTICH, of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), highlighted the importance of monitoring progress on implementation of the Programme of Action, noting that one of its recommendations is to create a mechanism to continuously follow up on the implementation of the Programme of Action with inputs from experts, national statistical offices and other sources. ECE has put this monitoring framework in place to track progress, using more than half of the same indicators used in tracking implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Commission also draws data from voluntary national reviews and has applied the monitoring framework to regional review processes.
PAULO SAAD, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said inequality remains a major challenge in the region. Greater efforts are needed to confront the poverty and exclusion that affects most severely the most vulnerable population groups. He emphasized the importance of institutionalization, the active participation of civil society, synergies with the 2030 Agenda and a strong commitment and political will from Governments.
MARCO TOSCANO-RIVALTA, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said the impact of Cyclone Idai demonstrates the continued relevance of disaster risk reduction programmes and the need to ensure that those affected by disaster are not left behind. Recalling that the Programme of Action calls attention to risk drivers, he noted that implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction encourages an all-of-society approach to risk management. The adoption of national and local risk reduction strategies by 2020 is an opportunity to address concerns about protecting people and livelihoods, he added.
Mr. SAAD, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), highlighted the Arab region’s population is doubling. The region faces many challenges, such as a high unemployment rate and a large wave of migration, which, combined with environmental challenges, has reversed development gains in some countries of the region. To protect the rights of vulnerable populations, a people-centred approach is needed more than ever. The 2030 Agenda consolidates this paradigm shift that was started by the Programme of Action. ESCWA helps countries align their national plans with these agendas and it facilitates the exchange of knowledge among Member States and other stakeholders. The Commission’s statistical division has an important role in providing data useful for implementing programmes across the Arab region.
Ms. SIYUNYI, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that Africa adopted the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development in 2013, which was officially endorsed by Heads of State and Government the following year. In 2017, African member States adopted an operational guide and monitoring framework for the Declaration. This is the main instrument employed by the region to review implementation of the Declaration as well as the Programme of Action. As part of the review process, 48 out of 54 African States submitted national reports, an outstanding achievement reaffirming Africa’s continued commitment to the Cairo agenda. Since the 1990s, life expectancy in Africa has increased by 10.7 years. More children are enrolled in primary schools and the gender gap in enrolment is narrowing. Despite some successes, there is a need to respond to the rapid population growth on the continent and the successes of the past 25 years cannot be sustained unless Governments tackle the inequalities that hurt the poorest and most marginalized.