Investment in education a key factor as Africa heads for one billion children

Two-fifths of the world's children will be in Africa by the year 2050 – that means there will be almost one billion under-18s living on the continent.

A new report by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF reveals that the African under-18 population will grow by two-thirds over the next 35 years and almost two billion babies will be born.

It concludes that  – more than in any other part of the world – children in Africa will lie at the heart of its demographic and social transition. 

And investment in education – particularly for girls – and stopping child marriage will be key factors in achieving that.

The UNICEF report Generation 2030/Africa says: “Investing in and empowering girls and young women will be imperative to slow adolescent fertility rates and build an Africa fit for all.

“Expanded programmes to end child marriage (defined as a union in which one or both parties are under age 18), which is highly prevalent across the continent, must also be included as part of efforts to address Africa’s demographic transition.

“Child marriage is a determining factor in sustaining elevated rates of adolescent pregnancy, high lifetime fertility rates and exclusion from education.”

The report says prioritising girls’ education in Africa will be paramount. It says: “Studies clearly show that educated women delay their first pregnancy and space their births more widely than women who lack education – and are more likely to ensure that their children go to and stay in school.”

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said equity-based programming and policy for children will help determine whether African children can transform the continent and break vicious cycles of poverty and inequality.

He added: “However, if investment in Africa’s children is not prioritised, the continent will not be able to take full advantage of its demographic transition in the coming decades.”

In 1950, Africa accounted for only 9% of the world's population. The report says that by 2050, that figure will be 25% and will rise to 40% by the end of the century. This is despite the fact that child mortality rates will remain high.