Vice-President Saulos Chilima has termed Malawi’s rapid population growth “a national tragedy” which, like the Covid-19 pandemic and chronic floods, requires urgent pushbacks as it affects economic growth.
Chilima, who is also Minister of Economic Planning and Development and Public Reforms, warned that the country may soon become a social welfare State unless there is a dramatic slowdown in population upsurge.
He said this when United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) regional director for east and southern Africa Julitta Onabanjo met him last week in Lilongwe.
During the meeting, the two agreed to put youth empowerment as well as sexual and reproductive health at the centre of economic planning to avert disruptive crises caused by rapid population growth.
According to the 2018 census, the number of people in the country has leapt from 13 million to 18.4 million since 2010, an annual population growth rate of about three percent.
Chilima said a bolder push to end child marriages would slow population growth as a Malawian woman is likely to have four children in her lifetime.
He stated: “The sad revelation is that by the time the teen mothers get to the age 25, they would have already given birth to five children. If these children are born of a mother who cannot support themselves, we are beginning to create a dependent population and that is a crisis in the making.”
He demanded a sharper focus on the country’s youthful majority, with three-quarters of the population aged below 35 and 51 percent below the marriageable age of 18.
In 2016, Chilima’s ministry unveiled a national blueprint which calls for greater investment not only in keeping boys and girls in school but also offering them quality education, relevant skills, better healthcare and sustainable environmental management.
However, the youth in Mangochi, where Onabanjo visited Mpapa Primary School and Jalasi Health Centre, said there is little talk and action to reap the benefits of prudently investing in services that empower the youth to become economic movers and shakers.
Onabanjo said the government has made tremendous strides to outlaw early marriages, but the pace remains slow as almost half of Malawian girls marry before their 18th birthday.
Before returning to South Africa on Saturday, Onabanjo also held talks with President Lazarus Chakwera, First Lady Monica, several ministers and local communities in Mangochi, where UNFPA and other United Nations agencies are implementing a Joint Programme on Girls Education with support from the Government of Iceland.