Parliamentarians from 23 African countries renewed their countries’ commitments made at the landmark 2019 Nairobi Summit, at a consultation held recently in Addis Ababa. COVID-19 has affected programmes that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and seek to end harmful practices, like child marriage and female genital mutilation.
The pandemic has slowed progress toward commitments made at the International Conference on Population and Development’s 25th commemoration (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya in 2019. It has disrupted efforts to end child marriage, resulting in a likely additional 13 million child marriages taking place globally between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise would have been averted, according to estimates from UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
Tackling the effects of COVID-19
To help reduce the adverse effects of the pandemic, the Asian Population Development Association (APDA), in partnership with the African Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FPA) and UNFPA, organized the Asian and African Parliamentarians consultation from 21-23 June. Parliamentarians from Africa and an additional 15 from Asia agreed to accelerate progress on the ICPD25 commitments.
The consultation emphasized the role of members of parliament, councillors, service providers, technocrats and development partners in updating and aligning national policies, plans and strategic documents to accelerate progress towards the ICPD, FP2030, and SDG commitments.
The parliamentarians agreed to mobilize and educate communities on the relevance of the ICPD25 commitments, address demands for sexual and reproductive health services, and hold leaders and service providers accountable for ensuring people-centred, quality sexual and reproductive health services. They confirmed they will carry out the role given to them by their respective constitutions on accelerating progress towards the ICPD25 commitments, as well as assess and propose appropriate laws that will facilitate the implementation of the ICPD25 commitments. Where laws already exist, they committed to reinforcing them through amendments and ratifications.
Building national momentum on ICPD25 commitments
As most international instruments (communiques, treaties and commitments) are broad in context, it is practical to domesticate them to local contexts.
Majur Babur, representing South Sudan, advised the parliamentarians to make their presence felt when issues addressing the ICPD commitments are being compromised. They need to be vigilant and persuasive during the budgeting process, to ensure adequate funds for addressing issues affecting people are set aside. The ICPD commitments are no exception. Other avenues outside of the national coffers must be explored to enhance the goals of the ICPD and SDGs, he said.
Larry Younquoi from Liberia, and India’s Manmohan Sharma, urged the parliamentarians to build national momentum to focus on the unfinished business of the ICPD, by ensuring availability of skilled human resources, advocating for delayed marriage, educating on ill-effects of early childbearing, promoting the safety of girls and women, and ensuring all girls complete at least secondary education. Programmes for young people, such as cash transfers, special loans, and skill development, must be supported.
Championing people’s sexual and reproductive rights
On the role of legislators and policymakers in implementing the ICPD25, Jyoti Shankar Tewari, UNFPA’s Regional Health Systems Adviser for East and Southern Africa, spoke on how their roles could be strengthened to provide leadership, and to champion and amplify the voice of the people on sexual and reproductive health and rights. For instance, they should use their authority to empower rights holders on sexual and reproductive health, and hold governments accountable on their ICPD commitments.
Mr Tewari advised countries on how to accelerate progress towards universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, by integrating comprehensive sexual and reproductive health in universal health coverage and primary health care policies and programmes.
Parliamentarians have a role to play in ending child marriage. As part of the second phase of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage, UNFPA supports countries in domesticating, harmonizing and implementing laws, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage, to accelerate progress towards ending harmful practices in the region.
The Model Law was presented and discussed. Since its endorsement in 2016, positive developments have been observed in the SADC region, as described by Clare Musonda, Director of Corporate Governance SADC Parliamentary Forum; Yeukai Chuma, Parliament of Zimbabwe; and Meron Negussie, Adolescent and Youth Programme Specialist for UNFPA.
For instance, the Lesotho Parliament passed a Counter Domestic Violence Bill, a law that criminalizes child marriage. Seychelles revised a civil code banning marriage under 18 years, even with parental or guardian consent. The Malawi Parliament voted in favour of amending its constitution to make marriage before 18 illegal.
The consultation culminated in 10 outcomes, and acknowledgment of the support of APDA through the Japan Trust Fund and UNFPA in tracking the ICPD25 commitments at country level.