Parliamentarians from 28 African countries have agreed to establish an African Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development to "drive the population and development agenda on the continent".
This followed a three-day consultative meeting from 2-5 December in Johannesburg under the theme, "establishing a sustainable parliamentary forum on population and development in Africa", which was supported by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA and Union for African Population Studies (UAPS).
A communique issued at the end of their deliberation urged African MPs to intensify actions to position population issues, including family planning, within development frameworks and promote laws and other parliamentary activities.
While acknowledging that significant progress has been made in the area of sexual and reproductive health through parliamentary committees and networks, the MPs emphasized the need for African parliaments to sustain legislative actions that would assist in achieving the commitments of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) beyond 2015.
Advantages of African Parliamentary forum In his opening remarks, UNFPA Regional Director Mr. Bunmi Makinwa said the forum is "a critical platform through which African parliaments will come together to champion population and development issues collectively as well as through individual parliaments." He underscored the strategic role of other parliamentary groups such as the African Women Parliamentarians' forum and the Pan-African Parliament in raising awareness on population issues, ensuring accountability on public spending for social services and enacting appropriate domestic legislation for the implementation of the ICPD Plan of Action.
The advantages of an Africa-wide parliamentary forum include building capacity of African MPs and parliamentary staff on ICPD and promoting legislation, policies and funding for population and development issues.
The Consultative Meeting also provided a forum for mentoring and experience sharing with MPs from other regions and national parliaments on sustainable institutional structures and mechanisms for establishing such a parliamentary forum.
The forum will serve as a convening hub for African MPs to build, expand and renew support and understanding for ICPD, particularly after electoral changes and to build cross-party political consensus on ICPD issues, particularly on those areas which are culturally sensitive.
Unfinished business on ICPD The parliamentarians noted that Africa is still affected by several demographic issues which need significant public and policy attention.
They called for more action by parliaments in order to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health including improvement of maternal health, reducing child mortality, and increasing access to family planning by various populations.
The challenge and opportunity of effectively addressing youth issues were also discussed. The MPs noted that 44 per cent of Africa's population is under the age of 15, which makes Africa the youngest region in the world. "Africa's youth should be the driving force behind economic prosperity," they resolved.
They also recommended the development and implementation of appropriate policies and programmes that will enhance the opportunities of young people in Africa.
Although sub-Saharan Africa has significantly contributed to global economic growth over the past decade, this economic performance reflected in the highest growth rates of GDP per capita in many countries has not led to significant poverty reduction among its populations.
The proportion of the population living on less than US$ 1.25 a day marginally decreased from 58 per cent in 1990 to 47.8 per cent in 2008, but this falls far short of the target of 29 per cent reduction by 2015.
Poverty is still much deeper and far more widespread in Africa than in other major regions in the world.
But as UNFPA's Regional Director noted, Africa is making significant progress on a number of areas. The aggregate net primary school enrolment in Africa rose from 64 per cent in 2000 to 84 per cent in 2009.
More than 10 countries within Africa have posted 30 per cent or more of women participating in decision-making processes in national parliaments. Maternal mortality has declined by 41 per cent over the last 20 years. And, Africa posted a 28.3 per cent drop in the infant mortality rate between 1990 and 2010. Annual new HIV infections dropped by 21 per cent between 1997 (2.6 million new infections) and 2000 (1.9 million new infections).
While there are many areas to be happy for on Africa, it is important to keep up the positive momentum of change on the continent. And the critical role of various institutions is indispensable, not least that of parliamentarians fora and other parliamentary institutions.
Adebayo Fayoyin, Regional Communication Adviser, UNFPA South Africa.