Report advises Africa to avoid demographic time bomb

Africa could be home to a billion angry, under-fed, under-educated and under-employed children and young people by 2050, unless governments wake up early, says a new report.

The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2018: Progress in the Child-Friendliness of African Governments shows Africa is sitting on a demographic time bomb.

The report released in Addis Ababa on Friday advised African governments commit to massive long-term investment in the nutrition, health and education of their children and young people.

Without massive long-term investment in nutrition, healthcare, education and employment the growing child and youth population could become a huge burden, exacerbating poverty, inequality, unemployment and instability and creating a serious human development crisis.

“The rapidly increasing children and youth population is both a challenge and an opportunity,” said Dr Assefa Bequele, Executive Director of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), which compiled the report. “Africa can choose to reap the demographic dividend, nurture its human capital and accelerate sustainable and equitable development. Children have the potential to transform Africa – but if neglected, they will exacerbate the burden of poverty and inequality, whilst posing a serious threat to peace, security and prosperity.”

“There are many reasons for concern,” he added. “Undernutrition remains a serious and persistent problem. It is the single biggest challenge for Africa’s children. Stunting remains unacceptably high at 30.4 percent. Up to half of all deaths in under-fives are associated with undernutrition. And while African children may attend school in large numbers, they are not learning. Two in every five children leave primary school without learning how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.”

The report is based on the Child-Friendliness Index (CFI), which ranks 52 African nations on progress towards realising the rights and wellbeing of children. The CFI rates Mauritius, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Morocco and Lesotho as the most child-friendly African countries, while South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Zambia, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Eritrea languish at the bottom of the table as the least child-friendly countries. Rankings are based on a range of indicators including nutrition, education, budgets and social protection.

“Large numbers of African children and young people suffer from undernutrition and lack of educational opportunities,” said Mrs Graça Machel, Chairperson of ACPF’s International Board of Trustees. “African girls are yet to be given equal treatment either in law or before the law. More than half of all girls have no access to secondary school education.”

“Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, wealth or background, every child should be given a fair and equal chance in life. African governments must act quickly to avoid significantly damaging the region’s long-term economic and social development,” she said.

Africa’s child and youth population is predicted to reach 750 million by 2030, and one billion by the middle of the century – representing approximately 40 percent of the global child and youth population.

“Africa is on the verge of a serious human development crisis which carries grave consequences for the social and economic wellbeing of its people and for the future of the continent,” said report author Yehualashet Mekonen, Senior Programme Manager at ACPF and head of its African Child Observatory. “African governments must commit to radical, transformative actions which go beyond the conventional box-ticking approach to child rights.”

The report acknowledges there has been some progress in recent years. Africa’s children are healthier, live longer, are better schooled, and can aspire to a better life than those before. African governments are gradually becoming more child-friendly, with better protection from abuse and exploitation, more child-friendly laws and policies, and more money being spent on children than ever before.

“However, progress is still far too slow and patchy,” said Graça Machel. “The future is even more disconcerting. We are faced with a scenario that calls for nothing short of an exceptional and transformative agenda.”

ACPF is calling for urgent action in six priority areas: tackle undernutrition and poor education; create jobs and economic opportunities for young people; put respect for the dignity of children at the heart of legislation and policies; ensure that the most marginalised children are not left behind; and massively increase investment and budgets for children and young people.