Alieu Sarr made the comment last week at a symposium as part of the launching of the UNFPA State of the World Population report under the theme, ‘The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future,’ at the Paradise Suites Hotel.
He said: “UNFPA is particularly interested in ensuring that every young person actually fulfills his or her potentials. The way we are doing that is to try to address the issues of sexual and reproductive health because The Gambia is one country where a large number of girls marry at an early age with complications. These complications are social, economic and even health. This is because when a child is married at an early age, the consequences could be maternal mortality. This is one factor why the maternal mortality rate in this country is one of the highest in the sub-region. Secondly, there is a trade-off when a girl gets married at a very early age and starts child bearing. There is also tendency for those girls to have an interruption in their education. In such a situation, they will not be able to reach their full potential. UNFPA has a host of programmes which are related to sensitising young people on their roles and responsibilities in ensuring that they take care of their sexual and reproductive health issues. There is an aspect which looks at the provision of services and UNFPA has really taken major steps towards ensuring that we bridge the demographic dividends.
“If the future has to be transformed, we really need to harness the potential of young people. Focusing on The Gambia, we know that the large chunk of the country’s population comprises of young people. In fact current figures put it at 40 percent of those aged under 15. This means that the young population constitutes a large proportion of the population and we have to take advantage of the demographic dividends and utilise it to the maximum. It is about ensuring that we utilise the young age structure to the advantage of the country. This is to say that at some stage of our lives, we will have an age cohort of a working force… large enough to really take the lead in our development endeavours. And for them [youths] to effectively participate in national development, certainly we have responsibilities. These responsibilities are centred on providing them with the requisite education and skills to enable them more effectively participate in national development.”