UNITED NATIONS – The best and cheapest way to prepare Africa for a better future is to educate all its youths, especially girls and young women, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said April 10.
Addressing the 40th session of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development, the archbishop said that according to projections, by 2050 a large portion of Europe’s population will be dependent elderly but “Africa is set to have the lowest dependency ratio in the world.”
“This projection should hand that continent an unprecedented advantage in economic terms, as a young and numerous workforce should be available to it until at least 2050, while the demographic dividend in most other regions will have run out,” he said.
He said it is important “to assure that Africa will not miss this window of opportunity for economic development,” and in the view of the Vatican’s U.N. delegation, “the most decisive investment to be made here is in education.”
Since many of the people who will make up Africa’s workforce in the coming decades “are already born and are already of school age,” Archbishop Migliore urged immediate efforts to achieve primary education for all African children by the year 2015.
He said that according to an estimate by the U.N. Secretariat, meeting that goal “would cost $9 billion estimated in 1998 dollar value.”
“By any estimate, this can hardly be considered a high price to pay for such a prize,” he said.
“Moreover, education, especially for girls and young women, can have a notable impact on population growth,” the archbishop added. “As women become better educated, they gain greater respect; they become breadwinners; they acquire maturity in parental responsibility and a greater say in family affairs.”
Investing in women through education “is surely to be preferred to legal imposition of limits, to artificial corrective measures and drastic policies, and to the unacceptable practice of eliminating fetuses, especially females, in order to limit population growth,” he said.
Archbishop Migliore pointed out that the 40th session of the Commission on Population and Development coincided with the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on population and development, “Populorum Progressio” (“The Progress of Peoples”).
“At a time when the world was commonly divided into two blocs, East and West, the document focused instead on peoples and societies, whose conditions were marked not by being Eastern or Western, but by the levels of development and well-being in some parts of the world, in contrast to the degree of poverty and underdevelopment in others,” he said.
He said Pope Paul’s words, focusing on human dignity and the development of individuals and societies, remain a sure guide 40 years later “for demographic policies to promote a culture respectful of the rights of the least-protected members of our human family, especially before birth and in extreme old age.”
Noting that rates of elderly dependency are expected to soar in coming years in a number of the world’s more developed countries, he expressed a hope that those nations “will work to foster respect for human life in all its stages and to find solutions that are right and just, not merely pragmatic.”