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Africa: Population Growth

Volume 797: debated on Monday 29 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of population growth in Africa; and whether their development policies aim to restrain such growth.

My Lords, more than half of expected growth in global population between 2017 and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. Rapid population growth could of course impact sustainable development. We are working with African Governments to unlock investment in education, empowerment and opportunities for employment to enable young people across Africa to fulfil their potential and build prosperous futures. This includes supporting the rights of women and girls to choose whether and when to have children.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her new appointment. As an example, in 1950, the population of Nigeria was 38 million, and now it is over 190 million. UN estimates are that, by 2050, it will be 411 million and, by the end of the century, 794 million. Are these figures not alarming? Does she agree that, in respect of the dignity and freedom of women, the Government should do all they can in co-operation with African countries to further family spacing?

I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. He is right to highlight that. Further, Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world. To harness the benefits of demographic transition, we need to invest majorly in quality education, as well as family planning and helping women to space their families properly. We think that sustainable progress on these issues must be African owned and led, and we are supporting our partners to plan for the population growth and to empower and invest in the region’s young and growing populations through greater access to voluntary family planning, wider sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, gender equality and economic development to help stimulate job creation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 60% of the population of Africa are under the age of 25, and 65% live in rural areas? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to promote greater access to education, housing, healthcare and job opportunities in these rural areas?

The noble Lord is right to highlight that over 60% of people on the African continent are under 25 and, as I said previously, we expect to see a great deal of population growth in the region. We are working hard to ensure that there is better access to healthcare. On education, in particular, between 2010 and 2015 we supported 11.4 million children and young people to gain a decent education, more than 5 million of whom were girls. We have a specific project—the Girls’ Education Challenge—which currently supports marginalised girls to benefit from a quality education and to acquire know-how for work and life. This will give them a second chance to learn, and we are specifically targeting it on highly marginalised girls.

My Lords, according to the new UN hunger report, the rise in global hunger for the third year in a row is due to the impact of climate shocks, conflicts and economic breakdown. The worst forms of malnutrition are highest in Africa and when I last visited Malawi the irreversible stunting among young children was close to 40%. Will the Government heed the UN’s warning that ending malnutrition requires immediate action to help vulnerable communities? Will they implement the recommendations of the UN’s 2018 Global Nutrition Report, building on the success of bringing stunting down from 36% per year on average in 2000 to just 22% last year?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we must do what we can to prevent child stunting. We are investing significant amounts in global healthcare, focusing on delivering the sustainable development goals.

My Lords, during the Recess I travelled in north Africa and I took the opportunity to ask people I met about the size of their families. Those who had been brought up with six, seven or even eight siblings almost invariably had only two or three children of their own. Where people have access to contraception and information, this is increasingly the case across the developing world. Will my noble friend confirm that, following the leadership of the family planning conference in London a couple of years ago, the Government will continue to keep family planning at the heart of DfID’s strategy and programmes?

I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that we will of course keep fertility planning at the heart of our programmes. We are the world’s second largest global bilateral donor on family planning and have given nearly 17 million women access to modern methods of family planning every year since 2015. We believe that women and girls have the fundamental right to make their own informed choices about sex and child bearing, and one of the projects in which we are investing more than £200 million is the women’s integrated sexual health, WISH, which will increase access to life-saving voluntary contraception in 24 countries in Africa and three in Asia.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment and welcome her to her new role. I too congratulate the Government on what they are doing in development support. She has made the case for development support in Africa. However, I am concerned that the amount of money we are spending on empowering women and developing family programmes is being countered by the huge amount of money flowing into Africa from overseas, particularly from evangelical churches which are preaching the complete opposite of what we are funding. Have the Government carried out an analysis of the impact of this work and the damage it does to the empowerment of women?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I have not seen any analysis on this issue. We are working closely with the continent of Africa to ensure that we are able to fund our projects correctly and influence them where we can. The Prime Minister visited Africa at the end of last year to set out a new partnership to ensure that we can maximise our influence there.

My Lords, further to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, on this Question, the Minister will know that, where countries provide voluntary family planning, the fertility rate is beginning to fall and that in many countries it has fallen a great deal. The problem remains however—I get reports from many countries, particularly in Africa—that women still cannot afford to buy family planning supplies because they are not freely available. Have the Department for International Development and the Government—who have done well on this issue and I congratulate them—any plans to make family planning free?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. When I was researching this issue, I read a previous comment from her about how, if we did not have access to our own family planning, few of us would have been where we are today. That hit home with me. She is right to point out that family planning has the benefit of reducing fertility levels, which can be transformational around population growth. We are working closely to ensure that women and girls across developing countries can access and use family planning without coercion or discrimination and with a full, free and informed choice.