7 billion and counting

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Skewed sex ratio could increase sex trafficking and marriage migration


Babies resting at the Pouponniere facility in Dakar on April 8, 2009. The world's population of seven billion is set to rise to at least 10 billion by 2100, but could top 15 billion if birth rates are just slightly higher than expected, the United Nations said on October 26.

With the world's population reaching the 7 billion mark on Monday (October 31), it is time to invest in people, especially the youth, to ensure a "sustainable and prosperous future," says a United Nations report.

"How we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks," says The State of World Population 2011 report commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"With planning and the right investments in people now to empower them to make choices that are not only benefit themselves, but also for our global interests"”our world of 7 billion can have thriving sustainable cities, productive labor forces that fuel economies, and youth populations that contribute to the well-being of their societies," says UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin in the foreword of the report titled "People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion."

In Vietnam, with current population of around 87 million, the population growth rate has decreased significantly from 1.7 percent between 1989 and 1999 to 1.2 percent between 1999 and 2009.

According to the UN in Vietnam, as a result of sharp reductions in fertility and mortality and increased life expectancy, the ageing population in the country is increasing and the profile of poverty is changing.

Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam, urged Vietnam to act to reduce inequities and poverty.

"While poverty rates have consistently fallen below 14 percent, poverty reduction among certain vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minorities, including women and girls, has been much slower," Campbell said at the launch of the report on Thursday (October 27) in Hanoi. "To reduce inequities and improve living standards today as well as for generations to follow,  requires immediate, concerted and evidence-based engagement of policy makers, planners and managers at national, provincial and community levels."

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On a global scale, the 7-billion milestone is a challenge with the current pace of global population growth adding about 78 million more people every year, demand for natural resources and pressure on the planet are increasing.

"Gaps between rich and poor are growing. And more people than ever are vulnerable to food insecurity, water shortages and weather related disasters. Meanwhile, many rich and middle-income countries are concerned about low fertility, declining population and ageing," the report says.

It also says that the 7 billion mark can be an opportunity.

Data from the 2009 Census shows that Vietnam has entered a period known as the "demographic bonus," recording the highest proportional level of young people who are entering the workforce in Vietnam's history. Young people between 10 to 24 years represent almost a third of the country's population.

"While this demographic window is open, Vietnam can benefit from this tremendous resource by ensuring that every young person has access to quality social services, including health, education and training, so that they are well prepared to make a significant contribution to Vietnam's continued socio-economic growth and development," said Campbell.

He called for new ways of thinking and unparalleled global cooperation to reduce inequities and improving living standards for people, today and in the future.

"Working together, incremental actions will create exponential results. We must look around us now, today, to see what we can do, at home, in our communities and in our workplace, to reduce inequity, and reach out to the vulnerable and those who are less fortunate," he said.

The world population of 7 billion on October 31 is a billion more than only 13 years ago and 6 billion more than the early 1800s.

"We should also ask ourselves "˜What can I do to make our world a better place?' or "˜How do we close the gaps between rich and poor and rectify inequality between women and men and boys and girls?'" Campbell said.

"˜Bachelor nations'

Meanwhile, as the global population hits seven billion, experts are warning that "skewed gender ratios could fuel the emergence of volatile "˜bachelor nations' driven by an aggressive competition for brides," AFP reported Wednesday.

The precise consequences of what French population expert Christophe Guilmoto calls the "alarming demographic masculinization" of countries such as India and China as the result of sex-selective abortion remain unclear, it said.

"But many demographers believe the resulting shortage of adult women over the next 50 years will have as deep and pervasive an impact as climate change," it said.

It said the "unbending biological standard for the sex ratio at birth" is 104-106 males for every 100 females. "Any significant divergence from that narrow range can only be explained by abnormal factors."

India, Vietnam and China are countries with significant divergences. The figure is around 112 boys for every 100 girls in India and Vietnam, and almost 120 to 100 in China, where it goes even higher than 130 in some places.

"Demographers say that figure is now more than 160 million women deselected out of existence by the convergence of traditional preferences for sons, declining fertility and, most crucially, the prevalence of cheap prenatal sex-determination technology.

"UN agencies have issued similar warnings about the correlation between a scarcity of women and increases in sex trafficking and marriage migration, albeit with certain caveats," the report says.

It quoted Nobuko Horibe, Asia-Pacific director of the UNFPA as saying: "The data is really limited. It is very likely that this marriage squeeze would lead to these phenomena... but it's very anecdotal at this stage."

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