It was close to midnight. The horde of young people was charged up as they tried their skills at all the most recent dance moves. The party had started just close to dusk and had picked up steam just around 10 p.m. The loud music was just at the decibel level that can raise the dead if well targeted in the direction of the morgue. Close observers know you cannot even protest because no one will heed to your call for a cessation of activity. This is a normal weekend activity. They call it ‘OUTDOORING’. There is a new baby in town. Sometimes the baby is not so new. He or she might even be three months old but never mind. The people are in the mood for a party and that is reason enough to get together like this. With all the very young people twisting and wriggling their waist at such an unholy hour in the night, it is not surprising that nine months later or thereabouts, there is another ‘fine’ reason to raise the noise level again. Giving birth is the in-thing and for many of these young ladies with ages hovering between thirteen and seventeen, they have to prove that they are not barren. They will in no time get that tag if they have not given birth.
For some, the good news is that they delivered safely but the bigger developmental issue is how prepared are these ones for the responsibility of parenthood? Considering the mantra of UNFPA that every childbirth is safe, there is a partial success. But it is worth asking questions whether in real terms, the pregnancy was wanted and whether the young person’s potential is likely to be fulfilled. The arguments may begin here to the extent that the mere fact that a young lady has given birth very early does not curtail her development. Fair enough. All things being equal as the economists will say, the family of the young parent may be prepared to go the extra length to ensure that they continue with education and do whatever they can to develop and become useful citizens. This may be a fair argument. However, the other facts on the ground do not always support this argument. Very often the young ladies who get in the family way in their teens belong to the lowest quintile of society. Not to use the word poor, these ones more often than not are so less endowed that they always look up to others to support them.
The interesting bit is that sometimes, it is their poor state that led them into their situation because others had taken advantage of their want of assistance and impregnated them. Unfortunately, some are left in the lurch thereafter and even caring for themselves and their newborns becomes a real struggle. They resort to eking out a living in whatever way possible and when another seeming benefactor comes along the way, they yield again and the process repeats itself. This is sad but the reality. For some of these ones by age 22, they may have four children with different fathers all because of the need to survive. I have come across the 29- year old grandparents produced from this cycle and they are not better off. These ones come from depressed communities. Yet, there is even the bigger picture that people at that level may not be looking at. That picture may not even be evident to those not connected to them immediately.
They are giving birth but it is cumulatively having an impact on the country in her development march. Those parents do not build schools, they are not those who put up the hospitals and they do not provide other facilities meant for all. These must be provided by the government. Providing for a larger number than planned for, is always a challenge for countries that do not have all the required resources. Crowded schools and hospitals in addition to agitated unemployed youth are just some of the signs of population that is seemingly spiraling out of control in relation to the provision of amenities. This keeps governments panting to meet the needs of their populace. Meanwhile, we are at a stage where we are talking about the possibility of rather tapping into our population for all that it has to offer. Previous growth followed by population management plans has given us the opportunity of benefitting from demographic dividend. Yet, what we are calling potential dividend may not be because of challenges like the one posed at the beginning of this article.
The African Union has taken up the challenge in pushing for countries on the continent to reexamine their strategies to tap The Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development is also being reviewed to look at the progress we made. We made some progress according to the report but there is more to be done and a number of challenges to be taken on. Governments working with civil society are being called upon not to relent. Once again, investment in youth is seen as key. This should not just be lip service and coining of slogans as we tend to see on numerous occasions. The four main identified pillars of harnessing the Demographic Dividend should be looked at and reviewed on regular basis. These are Employment and Entrepreneurship, Education and Skills Development, Health and Wellbeing and rights and Governance and Youth Empowerment.
We can have all the declarations but without the necessary commitment and needed investment in those who will own the process in a few years – the youth – we will make little progress. As an apostle and a firm believer in harnessing the demographic dividend Mabingue Ngom, the Regional Director, West and Central Africa Regional Office of UNFPA has stated, “we need to put our young people first”. Without doing that some will still think that giving birth and having a midnight outdooring party is the best way to say they have arrived. Let us continue the advocacy so that they will not push us all to the wrong destination.