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Observers: Africa Must Plan for Baby Boom Now


Officials with the United Nations Children’s Fund -- or UNICEF – are predicting a large increase in the number of births in Africa. The officials say that by the year 2050, four out of 10 people on Earth will be African. They add that between now and then, about 1.8 billion African babies will be born.

Africa is already home to one of the world’s youngest populations. The African Union says about two-thirds of the continent's 1.1 billion people are less than 35 years old. Many of these young people will reach reproductive age in the next 30 years. A baby boom could change the continent greatly -- stretching resources and changing family life.

From Personal Decisions to Public Policy and More

Princewell Elimiaga owns a children’s school in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. He says he doesn’t need to read the reports to know that the population is growing. His classrooms are filled to capacity with children. One 23-year-old teacher at the school says watching the population explode has changed her own reproductive plans. She says she plans to have no more than two babies.

One researcher at a university in South Africa says that population growth is a serious public policy issue. He adds that every African leader needs to be thinking about the future now.

It’s the Economy, Baby

In 2010, the International Labor Organization found that 41 of 50 African countries studied provide at least 12 weeks of work leave for new mothers. Those figures have been increasing.

The organization also found that most African nations give new fathers less than 10 days of leave. Many give none at all.

Some countries are having a hard time enforcing the laws they already have.

Esther Njau is a mother living in Ngong. She says employers refuse to give new mothers the three months of leave required by Kenyan law. Ms. Njau says she got just two months of leave at her private company. Many of her friends who had babies were dismissed from their jobs. She says that the possibility of getting losing one’s job can stop a person from having more babies.

Many women in South Africa say government-subsidized motherhood is their only means of survival. 25-year-old Simpiwe Gwebu is one of those women. She had her first baby two years ago. The government gave her about $30 a month in assistance. She says that amount was not enough. So she decided to have another child. She says the government gives more money with each baby.

Critics of the government program say it sends the wrong message. They say the government should instead work to improve economic possibilities for the workforce.

Birth Control

West Africa has among the highest birthrates on the continent. The average woman in Niger has about seven children. Birth control methods are seen as a threat to culture, religion and tradition.

Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation. The Ministry of Health teamed with religious leaders to help spread information about the importance of family planning. One Senegalese expert says the use of pregnancy prevention in the country increased to 16 percent among married women in 2013. That was an increase of four percent in the two years since the family planning effort began.

In addition, infant deaths in Senegal dropped to about two percent.

Dr. Ashley Mthunzi is an expert in maternal health at Wits University in Johannesburg. He says South Africa loses 41 babies for every 1,000 live births. He notes that the lack of pre-natal care feeds into the nation’s AIDS problem. He says untreated HIV-positive mothers can pass the virus on to their babies.

Welcome to Africa, Baby

Experts say there is reason to feel hopeful about Africa’s future.

An expert with UNICEF in Senegal says that Africa’s booming population could be a great hope for the continent. She says Africa is unique in that its youth is the driving force on the continent. She says other parts of the world are seeing the aging of their populations. And an expert in Johannesburg says population growth is not the problem in Africa. He says the continent has enough resources but it must plan carefully to make those resources available to all Africans present and future.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Anita Powell reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver edited it.

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Words in this Story

baby boomn. a time when there is a great increase in the number of babies born

maternal – adj. of or relating to a woman who is having a baby

capacity – n. the ability to hold or contain people or things – usually singular

predominantlyadv. mostly

subsidize v. to help someone or something pay for the costs of something

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