By Joan Akello
Population experts, ministers disagree on need to control population growth
As Uganda’s population continues to expand, there does not seem to be an agreement between population experts and politicians about the need to put a brake on it.
However, the population experts though not entirely counting on the support of the politicians, are encouraged by the manner Ugandans appear to be buying in on their proposals to keep the population in check.
That is why Esperance Fundira, the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative, said she was awed by the turn up at the launch of the 13th State of Uganda Population Report in Kampala recently. “I have worked for UNFPA for 24 years; it is my first time to see so many people attend the launch of the national population report. This is a very promising approach in Uganda,” Fundira said. She said that the future of the country in terms of socio economic transformation lies in addressing the interests of special groups especially girls.
“The future of Uganda especially when we talk about social transformation will be greatly determined by the way we address the pressing needs of special interest groups – particularly those of adolescent girls because they hold the key to a Uganda without poverty,” she added.
The report titled, Population and Social Transformation: Addressing the Needs of Special Interest Group, defines special interest groups as people living with HIV/AIDS, Internally Displaced Persons, refugees, people with disabilities, women, the elderly, orphans and vulnerable children.
Though not entirely agreeing with the need to reduce population growth, Matia Kasaija, the state minister for Planning, concurred with the suggestion that there is need for an immediate solution to the high levels of teenage pregnancy.
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2011, one in four girls aged between 15 to 19 is pregnant or has had a child. Statistics also show that 50% of married women got married before their 18th birthday, which Fundira said means a derailed childhood.
Girls under 14 suffer the gravest long term health and social consequences from premature pregnancy, including high rates of maternal deaths and obstetric fistula. Every year, some 70,000 adolescent girls in developing countries die of complications related to pregnancy and child birth.
Currently, about 25% of Uganda’s 35.4 million population comprises adolescents aged between 10 to 24 years with a 24% teenage pregnancy rate. The report says that this should be an issue for the government to worry about because statistics show that 18% of adolescents have had a live birth and 6% are carrying their first child. Pregnancy for girls between 10 to 14 years is estimated four times riskier than for mothers between 25 to 29 years.
The report showed that 21 % (6.5 million) Ugandans are aged between 18 and 30 years and that Uganda has the world’s youngest population with 78% of its population below 30 years of age. That means that if the population explosion is to be checked, more focus should be on this age group.
Kasaija’s message coincided with the theme of the State of World Population Report 2013, “Motherhood in Childhood, Facing the challenges of adolescent pregnancy.”
Fundira said there is need to engage boys and men, and the community to support pregnant girls, help get education to delay pregnancy also curb stigmatization.
She added that the government needs to dedicate quality investment in adolescent girls and boys who represent 33% of Uganda’s population. “Providing them with the right skills and environment to grow will unleash their full potential so that they can take part in transforming Uganda from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country. “Educated girls have better educated and healthier children themselves. Adolescent girls can have a huge impact on the economic growth of this country,” Fundira stressed. Population Secretariat officials said there is also need to tackle the high population growth rate of 3.2% per year- an addition of about 1.1 million babies per year.
“This number is equivalent to a population of five districts being added to Uganda every year. Trends in population growth show that every 20 years we are sure of double population hence need to double the services,” Charles Zirarema, the acting director of Population Secretariat, said.
Ironically, however, the political leadership at the department’s line ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development did not appear to be too enthusiastic about reducing the population growth. They said the country can utilize this growth as a “population dividend.”
Fred Omach, that state minister for finance, caused unease when he said; “35.4 million or 36 million is a very small population. Population should not be viewed as negative but rather a bonus.”
He said Shs 49 billion has been allocated for next year’s population census and this will provide actual statistics not the estimates different agencies keep spewing in the media about the country’s population.
His boss Maria Kiwnauka, the minster for Finance, agreed. “Population is the biggest resource of a nation. We are all looking forward to the population census,” Kiwanuka said, adding, “The challenge is that our young population can be an opportunity for us to achieve our vision if we can transform them into an active group.”
Though she was positive about the large population she appeared to contradict herself on the need to find resources to educate the young population. Basing on the projection that Ugandans between 18 and 30 will be 7.7 million by 2015, Kiwanuka said it is useless to attack ignorance if we are not educating our children. “Let us not pay lip service to technical skills but impart them to achieve economic transformation,” she said.
The State of Uganda Population report calls for a pro-equity approach to achieve inclusive development.