Accelerating Fertility Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa. (UN Conventional: A Point of View)

UN Chronicle, June 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Accelerating Fertility Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa. (UN Conventional: A Point of View)


Jacques Emina Be-Ofuriyua

Population generally contributes to economic development. But in the context of poverty and limited resources, high fertility can provoke health, economic and demographic problems, such as infant and child mortality, cases of infanticide, infant and child abandonment, inadequate education and unemployment. In most sub-Saharan countries, despite considerable efforts in the field of reproductive health, fertility remains at high levels (5 children per woman).

The process of fertility transition will probably be achieved over a longer period of time than initially anticipated, by 2010-2025. Nor will fertility decline occur at the same pace throughout. Thirteen countries, among them Burkina Faso, Chad and Guinea, have not begun the fertility transition; 22 are progressing through the incipient stage of transition; and in some countries, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya and Cape Verde, transition is advanced.

Early marriage, low contraceptive prevalence (less than 25 per cent) and prohibition of abortion, except to save the life of the pregnant woman, explain this situation. Areas with incidence of early marriage have a high fertility, and those with late marriage have just started the transition. Transition is advanced in regions with high contraceptive prevalence (3 children per woman in southern Africa, with 47 per cent of contraceptive), with the exception of some large cities (Accra, Lome, Yaounde) where abortion could explain the fertility decline.

From the socio-economic point of view, education of women, health development and urbanization explain the fertility decline and its speed. In fact, education, especially of women, delays marriage and changes reproductive behaviour by providing knowledge about contraceptive use, increasing female participation in family decision-making and improving children's health. In the same way, child survival affects reproductive behaviour by shortening birth intervals and altering parents' perceptions about their children's survival chances.

What should the United Nations and the African Governments do to speed up the decline in fertility in the region? They should lead the population to dissociate sexuality and marriage, because in several countries current fertility is higher than desired--this difference varies between 0. …

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