A NEW report released by UNICEF dubbed “Generation 2030 Africa 2.0: Prioritising investment in children to reap demographic dividend”, has projected that Africa’s child population will increase by 170 million by 2030.
This is expected to take the number of the continent’s under-18s to 750 million.
The report, which focuses on child demographics in Africa and their implications for the continent’ and the world, indicates that Africa’s overall population is expected to double from 1.2 billion in 2016 to 2.5 billion in 2050.
The report further states that between 2015 and 2030, Africa will see a 33 percent increase in the primary school age population from 189 million to 251 million.
The projected expansion in Africa’s population is certainly a wake-up call for African countries to start thinking of how to keep pace with the continent’s unprecedented demographic transition.
Rapid population growth can either be a dividend or disaster depending on how countries position themselves to deal with challenges and demands that come with it.
If child population is projected to increase rapidly, so is the demand for basic services such as health, education and social amenities.
In view of the projected child population growth, the report identifies three areas that need prioritisation: health care, education and the protection and empowerment of women and girls.
UNICEF estimates that Africa will have to add 5.6 million new health workers and 5.8 million new teachers over the next 13 years to be able to meet the minimum international standards in health care and education due to the rapidly growing population.
UNICEF regional director for eastern and southern Africa Leila Pakkala said, “We are at the most critical juncture for Africa’s children. Get it right, and we set the foundation for a demographic dividend which could lift hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty and contribute to enhanced prosperity, stability and peace.”
The UNICEF report states that almost half of the continent’s population is under 18 years old, and children comprise the majority of the population in around one third of the 55 African Union member states.
It is estimated that the number of Africa’s children will top 1 billion by 2055.
UNICEF recommends three policy actions that African countries should take to create favourable socio-economic conditions for coming generations:
• African countries are encouraged to improve health, social welfare and protection services to meet international standards; or beyond in countries close to attaining them.
• Adapt Africa’s educational, skills, and learning system through curricula reform and access to technology, to enhance learning outcomes, so Africa’s children and youth are skilled to meet the needs of a twenty-first century labour market.
• Secure the right to protection from violence, exploitation, child marriage and abuse, and remove barriers preventing women and girls from participating fully in community, workplace, and political life with enhanced access to reproductive health services.
China is one example that points to the fact that rapid population growth also presents demographic dividends if investments are made in the right areas.
The UNICEF Generation 2030 Africa 2.0 report also notes that Africa can reap a demographic dividend that will see per capital incomes increase by up to four-fold by 2050, if policies which promote job growth are made alongside international and domestic investments in Africa’s economy.
UNICEF further warns that if investments are not made in Africa’s youth and children, the once in a generation opportunity of a demographic dividend may be replaced by a demographic disaster characterised by unemployment and instability.
The report also highlights the fact that rapid population growth will impact on cities more, due to the high rate of urbanisation.
This will entail more pressure on social services and amenities in African cities.
Currently 40 percent of Africa’s population lives in cities, compared to just 14 percent in 1950.
The report estimates that by the late 2030s almost 60 percent of Africa’s population will live in cities.
In view of anticipated child population expansion, African countries, including Zambia, are therefore urged to build on the remarkable gains of securing children’s future.
African countries need to understand that there are greater challenges ahead which require them to double if not treble efforts on gains made so far.
UNICEF recognises achievements made by various countries, including Zambia, towards halving child mortality, increasing the number of children accessing education, especially girls, as well the fight against child marriage.
While Zambia in particular has made strides in these areas, perhaps the report is an eye-opener to the fact that more still needs to be done to secure the future generations.
The UNICEF report is certainly a call for more action by all African countries.
If African countries do not heed and take appropriate measures to keep pace with the continent’s anticipated demographic explosion, posterity will surely judge them harshly.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.