UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, published last week a report on reproductive rights and the demographic transition in the world. The report explains a global trend towards smaller families as a reflection of people making choices to have as few or as many children as they want.
“Choice can change the world,” said Sietske Steneker, director of UNFPA Brussels Office, at a press briefing (17 October). “When people lack choice, it can have a long-term impact on fertility rates, often making them higher or lower than what most people desire. Individual choices should be real choices.”
Family size is closely linked with reproductive rights, which, in turn, are tied to many other rights, including the right to adequate health, education, and jobs, according to the report. In particular there is a close correlation between fertility rate, the average number of children per woman, and education in all countries.
When a woman has the power and means to prevent or delay a pregnancy, she has more control over her health and can enter or stay in the paid labour force and realize her full economic potential. Women in development countries wish their children to have a good education and to live a better life than their own.
High fertility rates leads to high rates of population growth and a disproportionate share of the population aged 15 years or younger. At the press briefing, ULB demography professor Patrick Deboose warned that the world population – today estimated to 7,7 billion – might reach 25 billion with current fertility rates.
But the most probable outcome according to the United Nations is 11 billion. Deboose referred to the late Swedish health professor Hans Rosling who claimed that the world is in better shape than we think and who forecasted that the world population will level out in 2050, provided that it continues to eradicate poverty.
Worldwide fertility has dropped significantly from 4,7 in 1970 to currently 2,4 but is still high in many countries, especially in Africa. However, fertility rates can change drastically in 10 years, as has happened in some development countries.
In Europe the rate has dropped to 1,6 – well below the replacement-level fertility of 2,1 when a population replaces itself from one generation to next. Will the rate increase because of the influx of migrants to Europe from countries with higher fertility or will they adapt to the lower rate in Europe?
“They are still a very small proportion of the whole population so their impact on the general fertility rate is small,” replied professor Deboose. “Usually they’ll adapt to the fertility rate of the host population very fast as has been the case in Belgium.”
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, reproductive health and rights have substantially improved around the world. People have more information about their reproductive rights and choices, and a greater capacity to claim their rights.
The report classifies all countries in the world by the current dynamics of their populations’ fertility and makes specific recommendations for policies and programmes that would help each country increase reproductive choices.