Population and development: Ensuring rights and choices

With growth of the working age group becoming higher than the growth of the total population, we need to prioritise investment in education, work skills, empowerment and employment to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend

The world’s population is getting older. Interestingly, with continued decline in fertility and mortality, the global population is shifting towards an older age structure. We, therefore, need to focus on public awareness about key population issues related to family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and human health.

According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), share of the older adults (ages 65+) in the global population increased from 5 per cent in 1960 to 9 per cent in 2018 and is projected to rise to 16 per cent by 2050, with the segment aged 85 and older growing the fastest. Children’s (0-14 years) share is falling, from 37 per cent in 1960, to 26 per cent in 2018.

Due to significant demographic changes, integrating population and development strategies into planning and decision-making is a major objective of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).  Undoubtedly, achievement of inclusive economic development that leaves no one behind requires good investment and planning.

Therefore, political leaders, national governments, policy-makers and civil society organisations need to articulate a bold vision regarding relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

Reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality are the pathways to sustainable development. However, there are still huge challenges to overcoming the existing social, economic, cultural and political barriers for effectively addressing the broader issues of population and development in most of the developing countries.

It is high time we discussed and agreed on concrete actions to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which is critical to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Because achieving the SDGs also means ensuring their sustainability beyond 2030, training in the use of long-run population, economic and fiscal forecasts is an important component of capacity development as envisioned by the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.

Considering the closer link of population and development, Nepal has given high priority to population management in the context of overall socio-economic development. Population- related policies have been included in the periodic plans ever since the first five-year plan launched in 1956.  Since then, population issues have been mainstreamed into broader national development policies and plans to improve the socio-economic development of the country.

More importantly, the national population policy has given particular focus on the importance of family planning and reproductive health rights. In addition, the policy aims to address the implications of migration and urbanisation in local development.

In the changed political context, capacity building of local governments is necessary to mainstream population issues in a participatory and rights-based approach.

The issues of gender and social inclusion should receive high priority in local development strategies and plans. More advocacy on analysis and use of population data in policy making and planning is vital for addressing the needs and priorities of children, adolescents, youths, women  and senior citizens.

In our case, we have a historically high young working age population. Hence, more investments are needed to improve the health and social well-being of children, adolescents and youth for a sustainable future. More importantly, investing resources to reduce poverty among children and adolescents can increase their future productive capacity. It is also necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health rights, and prepare them for productive and creative activities to boost potential economic growth.

In the recent years, demographic transition is an emerging issue that implies long-term shifts in the birth and death rates from high to low levels in a population. Nepal, like many of the South Asian countries, has been undergoing rapid demographic changes during the last few decades. In recent years, fertility and mortality have been declining fast. Such demographic changes have profound impacts on individuals, families and communities.

Since the demographic dividend has begun, with the growth of the working age population becoming higher than the growth of the total population, we need to carefully prioritise investment in education, work skills, empowerment and employment for the young people to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend.

Additionally, we have seen lots of changes in families due to economic, demographic, technological, cultural and policy conditions. These changes can be experienced in all aspects of family life, and in all societies of the developing countries.

Over the past decades, developing countries have undergone remarkable demographic, social, economic, environmental and political change. Moreover, there has been a further shift of the rural population to urban areas and continued high levels of migration between countries. These migrations are an important part of the economic transformation occurring in different parts of the world, and they present serious new challenges.