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UNFPA’s flagship report that was continentally launched on 17 October in partnership with the African Union says the power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children can bolster economic and social development. The report, the State of World Population 2018, indicates that the global trend towards smaller families is a reflection of people making reproductive choices to have as few or as many children as they want, when they want.

The report indicates that family size is closely linked with reproductive rights, which, in turn, are tied to many other rights, including the right to adequate health, education, and jobs. Where people can exercise their rights, they tend to thrive. Where these rights are stifled, people often fail to achieve their full potential, impeding economic and social progress, according to the new report.

Speaking at the launch of the report , the UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, Dereje Wordofa, remarked that harnessing the demographic dividend is firmly premised on the on the enjoyment, protection and respect for fundamental civil, political and socio-economic rights of young people including young women. “Ensuring these rights and enabling the youth and women to make informed choices will undoubtedly contribute to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063,” he underlined.

The State of World Population 2018 bearing the theme “The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and The Demographic Transition,” calls on countries to enhance sexual and reproductive health and rights and choices to better manage the demographic transition. The report emphasizes that the resulting change in population age structure can help countries realize the demographic dividend, bolstering economic and social development.  

The report highlights that the demographic transition, particularly the fertility decline, has been much slower in the African continent compared to other less-developed regions and emphasizes the need for increased and targeted investments in education and health, including sexual and reproductive health.

In his keynote address at the launch, the Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission Ambassador Kwesi Quartey underscored the importance of the report which he noted complements the African Union’s focus on harnessing the demographic dividend. The report, he said, would influence decision making and inform responsive development policies and strategies, particularly on issues of health and wellbeing of the people, migration, urbanization, employment and entrepreneurship, education and skills development, governance and youth empowerment.

The Deputy Commissioner of the National Planning Commission with the rank of State Minister, Ato Getachew Adem, said Ethiopia's Growth and Transformation Plan mainstreams population issues and give due emphasis to improving access to family planning as well as creating a conducive environment for the fast growing working age population to actively participate in the country's development process.

According to the Minister, addressing population issues in a sustainable manner and seizing the demographic dividend calls for a joint and collaborative effort of all actors and the different sectors, including through the generation or evidence based information for advocacy and policy dialogue on population and development matters and the revision of different national policies, strategies and programmes in the country.

Reproductive health and rights have substantially improved around the world since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. People have more information about their reproductive rights and choices, and a greater capacity to claim their rights. “The historic transition to lower fertility,” says the report, “has emerged through people claiming their right to make choices about their reproductive lives, and to have as few, or as many, children as they want, when they want.”

But, the report indicates, most couples cannot have the number of children they want because they either lack economic and social support to achieve their preferred family size, or the means to control their fertility. The unmet need for modern contraception prevents hundreds of millions of women from choosing smaller families, as the report highlights.