Nearly two-thirds of South African women aged 15-49 are making use of modern contraceptives - in line with the average level for developed countries, and three times the average for sub-Saharan Africa - according to the State of World Population 2012 report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday.
Contraception 'an essential human right'
The report describes access to family planning - crucially including girls' and women's access to contraception - as an essential human right that not only supports other basic human rights, but also unlocks huge rewards for economic development.
"Making voluntary family planning available to everyone in developing countries would reduce costs for maternal and newborn health care by US$11.3-billion annually," the UNFPA said in a statement accompanying the release of the report on Wednesday.
The UNFPA cited a recent study predicting that if Nigeria's fertility rate fell by just one child per woman in the next 20 years, the country’s economy would grow by at least $30-billion.
And the benefits, according to the UNFPA, are not just economic. The report finds that the costs of ignoring the right to family planning include poverty, exclusion, poor health and gender inequality.
"Failing to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and young people in Malawi, for example, contributed to high rates of unintended pregnancy and HIV. In the United States, the report showed that teenage motherhood reduces a girl's chances of obtaining a high school diploma by up to 10 percent."
Reproductive health: South Africa's figures
Figures given in the report show that 60% of South African women aged between 15 and 49 make use of modern contraception, compared to averages of 20% for sub-Saharan Africa, 57% for the world, and 60% for the world's more developed regions.
South Africa's "unmet need for family planning", according to the report, stands at 14%, compared to averages of 25% for sub-Saharan Africa and 12% for the world.
"Unmet need for family planning" is a measure of the number of sexually active women who would prefer to delay having a child but are not using any method of contraception.
South Africa's adolescent birth rate (per 1 000 women aged 15-19), which represents the risk of falling pregnant for adolescent women, stands at 54, slightly higher than the global average of 49 and less than half the sub-Saharan average of 120.
The country also fares well for rate of births attending by skilled health workers, according to the report, with a rate of 91% well above the global average of 70% and nearly double the sub-Saharan average of 47%
Human rights-based health care
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, speaking at one of the Africa events marking the launch of the UNFPA report in Cape Town on Wednesday, said South Africa was committed to a human rights-based approach to the provision of health care.
"We also recognise the significant impact of strengthening family planning, particularly in the context of climate change, sustainable development and poverty education."
Dlamini said South Africa was proud of the progress it was making in implementing the International Conference on Population Development programme of action, but acknowledged that there were still challenges.
"[These include that] a considerable proportion of women in the world are still unable to exercise their sexual health and reproductive rights. Many still lack access to reproductive health and information," Dlamini said.
"They are victims of gender-based and sexual violence, which makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and Aids. This harms their health and denies them opportunities of a better life for themselves and their families."