UN Agency Lobbies for Fewer Kids as Countries Grow Old
NEW YORK, March 27 (C-Fam) Even while many countries are grappling with fertility decline, aging populations, and even loss of population, population control advocates intend to use an upcoming UN conference to make fertility reduction a UN priority for the foreseeable future.
A UN commission will meet in April to discuss the implications of “population dynamics” for the new global development agenda that will be launched by world leaders this September.
In the past, the Commission on Population and Development (CSD) promoted contraception in high-fertility regions of Africa and Southeast Asia. This year’s draft resolution seems to repeat that approach.
It notes the “potential development benefits of fertility decline,” citing the possibility of a much-touted “demographic dividend” from lower birth rates. It calls for investments in sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in multiple paragraphs, and warns of bulging youth populations.
Meanwhile, the document ignores the growing crisis of aging populations in countries with sub-replacement fertility, and overlooks the emerging challenges faced by countries that are growing old before they ever got a chance to develop.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which wields disproportionate influence with its $1 billion budget, actively lobbies governments ahead of the commission each year.
On a recent trip to Japan, the head of UNFPA was asked what he thought about the most aged nation in the world.
“I think it’s important what Japan has done and achieved not be seen as negative,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin said.
“It should be seen as positive in terms of how the right investments were made and how democratization and good governance have allowed people to get where they are.”
Osotimehin referred to Japan as a “laboratory” to assess strategies for managing an aging population. But the stakes are higher than simple experimentation. Poor countries where social services are already strained or almost nonexistent are especially concerned that they will not be able to reverse the effects of decades of rapid fertility decline.
According to Kaja Jurczynska of Population Action International, an aging society is a “human success story” where improved health care reduces preventable deaths and increases life expectancy.
This optimism ignores another force driving up the average age, namely, reduced fertility, which has long been the focus of UN population policy.
The draft resolution urges governments to address aging, but does not discuss the dangers of rapidly aging societies, such as insufficient caregivers for childless elderly, shrinking workforces, and national security concerns.
Given the potential harms and uneven benefits of fertility reduction, an important question is whether declining birthrates can be reversed as fertility plummets below replacement level.
At a 2011 UNFPA-sponsored forum in Thailand, Japanese professor Noriko Tsuya warned officials that “once population decline starts, you can’t just stop it that easily.” UNFPA’s representative Najib Assifi expressed concern that Thailand’s rapid economic development could be undercut by its precipitously declining birthrate: “Who will run the factories in the future?”
As conference preparations commence, attention is focused on Africa, where fertility remains high.
Last week UNFPA hosted a retreat for African delegates working on development issues to persuade them to support UNFPA’s contraception-centered approach to population policies.
One delegate laughed off the efforts to get Africans on board with a population control agenda. “They think we will listen to Dr. Osotimehin because he is one of us,” he said. Osotimehin is Nigerian, and a father of five.