It can be said that there are four basic and primary things that the mass of people in a society wish for: to live in a safe environment, to be able to work and provide for themselves, to have access to good public health and to have sound educational opportunities for their children – Nelson Mandela
Africa recorded a critical increase in the last few decades. Its current population is five times its size in 1950. According to UNICEF analysis based on United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision (UN-WPP), United Nations, New York, 2013, the continent’s population increase will likely continue, with its inhabitants doubling from 1.2 billion to 2.4 billion between 2015 and 2050, and eventually reaching 4.2 billion by 2100.
It is also believed that more than half the projected 2.2 billion growth in the world’s population from 2015-2050 is expected to take place in Africa, thus, the future of humanity is largely African. By this tendency, in about 35 years time, one in every four people will be African, rising to four in 10 people by the end of the century. Comparatively, back in 1950, only nine among 100 of the world’s number of inhabitants were African. These trends have potential implications vis-à-vis future economic growth.
A research has equally shown that in 2050, approximately 41 percent of the world’s births, 40 percent of all under-fives, 37 percent of all children under 18 and 35 percent of all adolescents will be African; far above previous projections. From record, in 1950, only about 10 percent of the world’s births, under-fives, under-18s and adolescents were African.
Furthermore, research shows that the population of Africa’s under-fives will rise by 51 percent from 179 million in 2015 to 271 million in 2050 and its overall child population (under-18s) will increase by two-thirds from 547 million in 2015 to almost one billion by mid-century. Predictably, about 1.1 billion children under 18 will be living in Africa by 2100, making up almost half (47 percent) of the world population of children at that time.
Thus, considering that almost two billion babies will be born in Africa within 35 years and almost one billion children, nearly 40 percent of the world’s total, will live in Africa by mid-century, investing in children sensitively becomes paramount for Africa to realize the rights of its burgeoning child population and benefit from a potential demographic dividend. If judiciously invested in, through quality education, improved healthcare, protection and participation mechanisms, these one billion children and their predecessors, the children of today and tomorrow, have the potential to transform the continent, breaking centuries old cycles of poverty and inequity.
For Nigeria as the arrowhead; with the largest increase in absolute numbers of births and child population in Africa, incontrovertibly, extraordinary attention is germane. From data, the greatest number of births in the continent takes place in Nigeria. From 2015 to 2030, about 136 million births is expected to take place in Nigeria — 19 percent of all African babies and six percent of the global figure. By 2050, Nigeria alone will account for almost one-tenth of all births in the world. In absolute terms, Nigeria is projected to add, from 2031 to 2050, an additional 224 million babies (21 percent of the births in Africa and eight percent of all births in the world).
Optimally, tackling abject poverty and investing in the nation’s poor children, regrettably many in number will be critical to providing better and more sustainable future living standards for all, and to permanently reduce future poverty and inequity.
If the current demographic trend is unabated, there is a strong possibility that millions of more children will grow up in severe poverty. For instance, World Bank data for Sub-Saharan Africa in 26 countries, including Nigeria, shows that more than half of the children under 18 are living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 per day. This scenario may be upturned, particularly through sustained investments in children’s welfare.
The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) report shows that Nigeria presently has about 10.5 million out-of-school children. In UNICEF statistics, about 69 percent of the figure is in the Northern region. These records, in practical terms, oppose United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Nigeria is a signatory and which broadly centres on best interests of the child. Emphatically, to directly or otherwise subject children to be roaming the streets, begging for food and other basic necessities, especially deprivation of quality education amounts to infringement on children’s rights.
Article 3 of CRC provides, “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
Thus, prioritizing child education, especially for girls, and ensuring quality education for all will be imperative to slow adolescent fertility rates, and build a society fit for all. Expanded programmes to end child-marriage (prevalent in the North), must be fervently confronted towards addressing the demographic calamity. Child-marriage is a major factor in adolescent pregnancy and high lifetime fertility rates for women. Studies show that educated women control their pregnancy, and space their births more widely than women who lack education.
Above all, providing quality education for children will ultimately, positively affect the entire society knowing that, in addition to population control, it instinctively empowers women to be economically, active players beyond baby-making at home. For example, most men seemingly age faster and even pass on before women, possibly due to excessive stress and worries. An economically empowered, trained woman, in most cases, becomes a support base for the family’s sustainability. Thus, investing in children and empowering girls and young women are requisite long-term panaceas or remedies.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.