The ability to control fertility is a woman’s most essential tool...
to influence the quality of her own life and the life of her child/ren. By giving women the freedom to determine if, when, and how many children they will have, contraception improves health, education, and employment and increases investments in children. Nations benefit too when women are healthy and engaged in paid work, and when families can invest more in education. But of the estimated 1.9 billion women aged between 15 and 49 in the world, 570 million (30%) may have an unmet need for modern contraception. Without this protection, many of these women and girls are routinely exposed to the many risks of unprotected sex, including the health, education, and economic risks associated with pregnancy and high fertility rates.
As most of these unprotected women live in just ten high population countries, including India, China, the USA, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, their ability to control their own fertility has implications for global economic and social development. Further, in the countries with extremely low (<20%) modern contraceptive use and high fertility rates (more than 5 children per woman), including Niger, Mali, Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, increasing contraceptive use could yield major national and regional development returns, including increased economic growth, reductions in poverty and inequality, and improvements in maternal and child health, and education. Due to the “youth bulge” in many of these countries and the rising populations of young men with limited opportunities, increasing contraceptive use could also deliver a long-term peace and security dividend.
In recognition of the economic and social costs of high fertility to individual women, their families, and nations, countries should institute a new measure of women’s freedom to pursue their full potentials - the Child Dependency Ratio - the ratio of dependent children (<14 years) to women of working age (15 to 49 years). They should seek to achieve a Child Dependency Ratio of <1 by 2020 and <0.8 by 2030. This would assist high population countries with low contraceptive coverage and high Child Dependency Ratios (e.g. India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia) and also the smaller population countries struggling with extremely low rates of modern contraceptive use, high fertility rates, and high teen pregnancy rates, including Niger, Mali, Somalia, Chad, and Angola.
The United Nations, its agencies, and development partners should include the Child Dependency Ratio as a specific indicator in the Sustainable Development Goals, alongside the more traditional indicators of contraceptive prevalence, unmet need for modern contraception, and the fertility rate. The UN should also ensure that all of its member states and agencies understand that fertility control is central to women’s freedom to lead healthy, productive lives and to the economic and social development of nations, especially low-income nations with very high fertility and early marriage rates and very low levels of educational attainment among women and girls. The ultimate goal of the Child Dependency Ratio is to reduce fertility rates to the levels required for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.