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27 January 2018 | Opinion/Feature

Harnessing Ghana’s Demographic Dividend

Jamila Akweley Okertchiri
Harnessing Ghana’s Demographic Dividend

The 2017 Youth Fest with an evening of edutainment for the youth to unwind

President Akufo-Addo, on Monday 11, December 2017, domesticated the Africa Union's (AU) Roadmap on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in the youth with the launch of Ghana's strategic guidelines at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC).

Joined by UN resident coordinator Christine Evans-Klock, President Akufo-Addo unveiled the document which has the overall objective of matching Ghana's population growth with its available resources in order to reap the full benefits of its growing youthful population.

The document, 'Strategic Roadmap for Harnessing Demographic Dividend in Ghana', contains priority activities in youth empowerment, employment and entrepreneurship, health and well-being, rights, governance and education and skills development.

Ghana's current demographic transition lends support to the clear onset of a demographic dividend that must be tapped, in that, fertility rate has declined from 6.4 percent in the 1980s to 4.2 in 2014, implying that women are giving birth to less children.

Also, the country's dependency population for example, children below the age of 15 years, has reduced from 46 percent in the 1970s to 38.3 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, the economic active population, those between 15 years to 64 years, has grown from 49 percent in 1970 to 57 percent in 2010.

However, despite the favourable indicators of Ghana's population, the country is still faced with major challenges that have the potential to threaten the attainment of its demographic dividend.

But, with the proper implementation of the strategic interventions in the areas of economy, education, health and governance, Ghana stands to gain from its current economically active population.

Ghana's Components
Guided by the AU's roadmap, President Akufo-Addo is already putting measures in place to economically empower the youth through stabilising the country's micro economy and introducing her to the new digital age.

“Over the last 11 months, we have worked to ensure the stability of Ghana's macro-economy, without which private sector growth will be inhibited,” Mr Akufo-Addo says.

The strategic document in its five strategic step approach also calls for employment centered economic growth strategy that will ensure sustained job creation, especially for the growing numbers of unemployed youth.

“Place entrepreneurial skills development at the core of job creation through periodic skills audits to help orient educational investments for inclusive accelerated growth,” the document states.

Shifting to education, President Akufo-Addo adds that the aim of government is to reduce gender gaps in school enrolment and completion at secondary and tertiary levels; ensure all school-going children attain a minimum of high school education through its flagship Free SHS policy; focus on a production-oriented approach to education, focusing on the knowledge and skills needed for economic development; and improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels, exactly as stipulated in the five strategic steps on education.

On governance, the president assures he will continue to promote and deepen in Ghana the system and culture of accountable governance, free of corruption.

“Whereby our people are governed in accordance with the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, the principles of democratic accountability and social justice.

Such a system includes building strong institutions of state, such as a well-resourced Parliament and Judiciary, efficient law enforcement agency, and effective security forces, that see their responsibilities and allegiances to the wider public interest, not just to the conveniences of the government of the day,” he adds.

Although the above areas are important for the country's attainment of its demographic dividend, the neglect of reproductive health right may nullify the gains of the other sectors.

Large numbers of young people can represent great economic potential, but only if families and governments can adequately invest in their health and education and stimulate new economic opportunities for them.

As long as the average number of children per woman (total fertility rate) and population growth remain high and children and adolescents greatly outnumber working-age adults, families and governments will not have the resources needed to invest adequately in each child.

Thus, the health-related issues that require strategic interventions in order to reap the demographic dividend is reproductive health.

As co-Chair of the Group of Advocates of Eminent Persons of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, President Akufo-Addo notes that ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all is his priority.

The strategic steps, however, clearly outline what needs to be done in this area. Top of the list is the intensification of reproductive health campaigns to increase family planning (FP) use among sexually active people to trigger and sustain further fertility decline.

“Step up educational campaigns to remove socio-cultural barriers against people to reduce teenage pregnancy and childbearing as well as child and maternal mortality,” the document states.

UNFPA's Role
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) office in Ghana is working to ensure the country attains its demographic dividend through working with stakeholders to enhance accessibility of reproductive health rights across the country while reducing negative cultural practices that hinder reproductive health.

Interacting with journalists this week, UNFPA Country Representative Niyi Ojuolape called for the need to harness the demographic dividend and keep the issues of the adolescent girl high on the agenda of the continent.

He mentions that the UNFPA has held several engagements with stakeholders in their bid to break the barriers to family planning.

One such event was the Youth Fest organised by the UNFPA to bring young people across the country together under one roof to talk about family planning while being entertained.

Mr Ojuolape adds that the event was necessary as the youth formed an integral part of the country's development and constitute the majority of the workforce.

“Investment in all four areas, education, health including sexual and reproductive health, entrepreneurial and leadership skills is vital to the achievement of the global agenda 2030,” he says.

The UNFPA, highlighting the importance of harnessing the powers of religious and traditional leaders to achieve the health goals of the strategic plan, also engaged faith-based organisations to create a network dedicated to promoting the agenda of ensuring a “zero tolerance of maternal mortality, gender-based violence leading to rape, teenage pregnancies and female genital mutilation (FGM), and a zero tolerance of unmet need for adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH)”.

Mr Ojuolape says the UNFPA as an organisation has very vibrant and stout network of FBO as allies in support of its reproductive health agenda in the “Post 2015 Development Processes”, yet, at country level and the Government of Ghana (GoG) and UNFPA Country Programme Six (CP6), there was limited engagement with these key groups.

He adds “The strategic partnership between government and community leaders, such as religious leaders, was a key to a nation's development and success in programme areas such the demographic dividend, sexual and reproductive health, family planning, HIV and AIDS, gender equality and empowerment of women.”

For him, the endorsement of influential religious leaders to new ideas on demographic dividend, family planning, HIV and AIDS, gender equality and empowerment of women has been documented and will help communities accept and adopt the approaches.

Pull Out
Demographic Dividend
The demographic dividend is the accelerated economic growth that may result from a decline in a country’s mortality and fertility and the subsequent change in the age structure of the population.

With fewer births each year, a country’s young dependent population grows smaller in relation to the working-age population.

With fewer people to support, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies are developed and investments made.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

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