Harnessing Africa’s Demographic Dividend: Reflections on ACSHR
The 7th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR) took place from February 8-12 in Accra, Ghana. The conference’s theme, “Realising Demographic Dividend in Africa: the Critical Importance of Adolescents and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights,” highlighted that there is need to invest in youth to harness Africa’s Demographic dividend. During her address in the opening ceremony, the First Lady of Ghana Dr Mrs Lordina Mahama expressed the critical need for African countries to focus and work to address all barriers impeding the realisation of the full potential of the youth on the continent.
To me the critical question for Africa's development today is this:
How do we harness the dividend from the continent's current youthful population?
Solving this issue has never been prioritized by as many governments in Africa as it is today. Our governments have been able to draft developmental documents in Africa and very sound policies, but these have been lacking in how best to harness the potential of the youthful population for the transformation of the continent.
Statistics have shown that young people are the window of opportunity to harnessing the demographic dividend. Africa is undergoing important demographic changes which provide massive economic opportunities. Currently, there are 251 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in Africa compared to 1.2 billion worldwide, which means that around one in five adolescents in the world comes from Africa.
Africa's working age population is growing and increasing the continent's productive potential. If the mortality continues to decline and fertility declines rapidly, the current child dependency burden will reduce drastically. The result is an opportunity for the active and employed youth to invest more. With declining death rates, the working age population in Africa will increase from about 54 per cent of the population in 2010 to a peak of about 64 per cent in 2090.
This increase in the working age population will also create a window of opportunity which, if properly harnessed, should translate into higher economic growth for Africa, yielding what is now termed a 'demographic dividend,’ or accelerated economic growth spurred by a change in the age structure of the population.
Our African governments need to invest in employment creation, education, skill development, and most importantly, in the health and wellbeing of young people, including sexual and reproductive health. The impact of such a demographic transition on economic growth is no longer questionable—it is simply a fact.
But this transformation requires that suitable policies, strategies, programs and projects be developed to ensure that a demographic dividend can be earned from the youth population. As we move toward the post-2015 development agenda, unleashing the potential and power of Africa's youth should be a critical component of the continent's developmental strategies. We will not achieve it when young women are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and reproductive freedom. If these efforts are to succeed, we must address the disparity in treatment between today's boys and girls especially. This requires urgent action.
Young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are fundamental to the realization of the demographic dividend. It is therefore important to protect and fulfill the rights of adolescents and young people to accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education, and health services for sexual and reproductive wellbeing and lifelong health.