By Sam Agona
The Demographic refers to a window of opportunity for accelerated economic growth that might result from a change in the population age structure, where there are more people in the labour force than dependents.
Demography is important because as a country, if Uganda transitions from high mortality and high fertility to low mortality and low fertility, the current young population, who make up 70% of Uganda’s total population can emerge and thrust the country forward. Uganda recently commemorated World Population Day under the theme “Prioritizing Community Transformation: Addressing the needs of Vulnerable Populations,” which highlight the need to invest in young people.
Uganda like several African and Asian countries is experiencing demographic changes and can learn lessons from the experience of the East Asian “tigers” such as South Korea, and Malaysia. The experience there has shown that with the right investments in family planning, education (especially girl child), health, economic and governance reforms, it is possible to turn the current youthful population into an asset for socioeconomic development and achieving the demographic dividend.
Uganda can only reap the demographic dividend if investments are made in education, reproductive health of young people and in implementation of economic policies that promote investment and contribute to the creation of employment opportunities.
Stakeholders like UNFPA Uganda have been instrumental in ensuring population quality and gender matters but more could be done with practical effort on the part of the government and other stakeholders to effectively address challenges faced by young people.
As a country, Uganda can take the following steps to realise the demographic dividend:
Invest in child survival and health programs. To do this the country should focus on simple child survival interventions (immunization, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, nutrition education) that ensure that children do not die before their fifth birthday and that they grow into healthier more productive adults. Reducing child deaths also stimulates a desire for smaller, healthier families that will set the stage for economic growth.
Invest in the reproductive health needs of both married and unmarried youth. Invest in programs and policies to reduce teenage pregnancies, delay and space births, and prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among young people. Removing barriers to family planning and reproductive health information, counseling, and services, and providing youth-friendly services that include contraceptive methods are essential to increasing youth uptake of family planning. Investing in family planning will bring down the fertility rate and reduce the number of dependents.
Expand school enrollments, especially for girls. Keeping girls in school enables them to overcome barriers such as teenage pregnancy and child marriage. They will also be able to gain skills that will make them more competitive on the job market.
Enact and enforce laws to prevent child marriage (before age 18). Girls who marry young typically have children early and have more children than their peers who stay in school longer and marry later. They are also less able to contribute to productive sectors of the economy and reach their full potential.
Encourage young people’s participation. Young people should be involved in designing and implementing policies, programs, and services that are directed at them. Youth involvement helps ensure that policy actions are relevant, and helps develop youth as partners and leaders in development. It is important that youth are viewed as assets and active agents of change, who can contribute their energy and ideas to the country’s growth and progress.
With such investments in place, Uganda can harness the demographic dividend and maximize the potential of today’s young people as envisioned in Vision 2040.
The Writer is a Global Health Corps Fellow 2014-15