NEW DELHI, Sep 05 (IPS) — Legislators from around the world, this week, officially submitted to the Sherpa of the G20 meeting set for September in New Delhi a declaration calling on governments to prioritise spending on ageing, youth, gender, human security, and other burning population issues.
The submission to the G20 Sherpa follows a workshop held on August 22 in New Delhi to discuss the Declaration first presented at the G7 Hiroshima summit in April by the Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (GCPPD) under the UNFPA.
“We have now submitted the Declaration to Amitabh Kant, Sherpa to the G-20 so that it can be taken up,” Manmohan Sharma, Executive Secretary of the Indian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (IAPPD), told IPS.
Deepender Hooda, Vice Chair of the AFPPD and a member of India’s Parliament, said the workshop in New Delhi was significant not only because India is hosting the G-20 summit but also because India was expected to have overtaken China as the world’s most populous country reaching 1,425,775,850 people in April.
Keizo Takemi, member of the House of Councillors, Japan, and Chair of the AFPPD, observed that India faced many challenges that are hard to overcome, and these included the large size of its population, limited school attendance, and a high rate of unemployment. “Prioritisation of population issues is the most important,” he emphasised.
Hooda, a leader of the opposition Congress party from the state of Haryana, said he was concerned at the dwindling budgetary outlay in social sectors like health and education over the last few years in India. “Currently, for some reason, inclusive growth in education and health has fallen,” he told delegates.
A presentation to the workshop by Suneeta Mukherjee indicated that India is among the top five nations leading the ‘out-of-school’ category, with 1.4 million children in the 6-11-years-old age category not attending school. Also, out of every 100 students, 29 per cent drop out of school before completing elementary education.
Mukherjee, an Indian career bureaucrat who has served at the UNFPA, said the situation appeared to be worsening at the upper primary level given that the dropout rate at the upper primary level had gone up to 3 per cent in 2021-2022 while it was only 1.9 per cent in 2020-2021. The annual dropout rate of secondary school students was 14.6 in 2020-2021.
Citing recent studies in her presentation, Mukherjee said 36 per cent of Indians between the ages of 15 and 34 believe that unemployment is the biggest problem facing the country. She said one survey showed 40 per cent of graduates identified unemployment as their most pressing concern.
Said P.J. Kurien, chairperson of IAPPD: “It is important that all MPs take up population-related issues. They need to ask what percentage of the budget is devoted to education and health and ensure that every child goes to school with special attention given to girls.”
Echoing Kurien, Sharma said it was up to members of parliament to ensure that no child is left out in his or her constituency. “The solution is in your hands, but the prioritisation is missing.”
Delegates outlined at the workshop legislative steps taken by Parliamentarians in their countries in implementing the International Conference on Population Development’s Programme of Action and 2030 Agenda.
Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel, Member, House of Representatives of the Philippines, said over the last two decades, her country had enacted such legislations as the Magna Carta of Women, Reproductive Health Law, 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave, Act Prohibiting Child Marriage, Universal Health Care Act, Youth Council Reform and Empowerment Act, and an Act to enable conditional cash transfers.
On the anvil, she said, is the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill, a law to recognise, evaluate and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work done by women, and another to accord social protection for older persons and the promotion of active aging.
For 2023, the budget allocation for reproductive health was $14.9 million dollars, and that for training teachers to implement comprehensive sexuality education was $13.8 million, Lacson-Noel said.
Andrea W. Wojnar, UNFPA India representative and country director for Bhutan, said with the right expertise and skills, India’s 1.4 billion people could be turned into 1.4 billion opportunities.
Wojnar said India, with its large youth cohort — its 254 million youth in the 15-24 age bracket — can be a source of innovation and solutions, especially if girls and women are provided educational opportunities and skills to access new technologies and are empowered to fully exercise their reproductive rights and choices.
With close to 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25, India has a time-bound opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividend, according to Wojnar.
"Women and girls should be at the centre of sexual and reproductive policies and programmes. When rights, choices, and equal value of all people are truly respected and held, only then can we unlock a future of infinite possibilities," Wojnar said in a statement.
"As the national fertility rate falls below 2.1 (the replacement level), India is at a unique historical opportunity, witnessing a great demographic transition as a youthful nation,” Wojnar said, adding that India also has the largest number of outmigrants and is affected by ageing, urbanisation and issues around sustainable development.
Wojnar warned that, overall, the Asia Pacific region was six times more likely to be affected by disaster events than other regions and is highly susceptible to changing weather patterns, calling for special attention by governments.
The Declaration presented to the Sherpa of the G-20 called on governments, among other things, to implement comprehensive legislation and policies that address all forms of gender-based violence and eradicate harmful practices such as child marriage, early and forced.
It also called for investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education toward making future societies economically dynamic and for building peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable societies. Support for political and economic participation by women and girls could ensure the development of societies that guarantee liberty and individual choice for women and girls, it said.
Governments were asked to promote and assure equitable access to health innovation, finance, technology, and medicines in the global community which can support human security, leaving no one behind.
Acknowledgement of the grave impacts of environment/climate change and global warming was important, as also the need to promote policies that address the needs of geographically vulnerable countries, which is a threat to health and human security, the Declaration said.
Investing in young people by providing decent work opportunities and enabling them to become a driving force for sustainable development was important as also addressing active and healthy ageing to enhance people’s overall quality of life by improving areas such as health and long-term care through resilient universal health coverage, physical security, and income stability.
Governments were also asked to enact national legislation and policies and ensure political will through allocation, oversight, and monitoring of budgetary resources to build universal health coverage, which is vital to enhance the global health framework.
IPS UN Bureau Report