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Why investing in children today is so important for tomorrow?

By Heamakarn Sricharatchanya

Bangkok, 28 February 2011 -- Imagine a country where more than 14 per cent of the population is at least 65 years of age.  Imagine that this very same country has a falling fertility rate.  Then, try to imagine some of the challenges this country will face in future years in trying to ensure continued socio-economic development and prosperity.

This is the exact scenario that Thailand will be facing within two decades from now as it moves from being an “aging” society to an “aged” one.  The number of people 65 years old or above is projected to increase beyond 14 per cent (a demographic threshold for “aged society”) by 2030, up from 7 per cent in 2005 within slightly more than two decades.  This makes Thailand one of the fastest aging societies in the world.  France, for instance, took more than a century to go through the same process.

At the same time, the country’s fertility rate is at 1.5 children per woman of reproductive age as of 2010 – already much below the replacement level of 2.1 at which population size stabilizes.  As result, over the following decades, there will be fewer and fewer people of working age, or “productive” age, to support an increasingly “greying” population. 

UNICEF believes that this future “age gap” can be best addressed by making substantial investments in realizing the rights of children and adolescents to health, development and education so that they will be better prepared to be productive members of society as adults, able to help both themselves and Thailand support a large elderly population.

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2011 report entitled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity’, released on February 25, examines challenges boys and girls face as they enter the second decade of life.  It outlines not only the risks and vulnerabilities of this pivotal period of life, but also the singular opportunities it can offer.  It also identifies areas where greater investment should be made in order to end the cycle of poverty, eliminate inequities and help secure a better future for adolescents themselves, their families and their countries.
 

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According to the report, adolescents aged 10 to19 years who are poor or marginalized are less likely to make the transition to secondary education during adolescence, and they are more likely to experience exploitation, abuse and violence, or to marry too young.  The report also notes that girls experience higher rates of domestic and/or sexual violence than boys, and are more susceptible to the risk of HIV infections. These challenges also face young people in Thailand.

According to data from the Office of Education Council, among those children who entered Grade 1 at primary level in 1998, only 55 per cent of them finished straight up to 12th Grade in 2009.  This means that almost a half of students enrolled either did not finish 12 years of education or repeating grades.  Far too many Thai youngsters do not make the transition from primary to secondary school, and as a result many will not have the knowledge or skills needed to find jobs in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing labour market.

To enable young people in Thailand and around the world to deal with these challenges, as well as challenges such as economic turmoil, climate change, environmental degradation, the rising cost of healthcare and escalating humanitarian crises, the report argues that targeted investments in the following areas are necessary:
- Improving data collection to increase understanding of adolescents’ situation;
- Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;
- Expanding opportunities for youth to participate and voice their opinion, such as in national youth councils and forums that allow their voices to be heard;
- Promoting laws, policies and programs that protect the rights of adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers to essential services; and,
- Stepping up the fight against poverty and inequity.

If managed well with vision, the fact that the number of children and adolescents in Thailand is shrinking will present not only challenges but also a golden opportunity.  It means the society can increase the amount of its investment in children per child basis, which will  enhance the quality of their development and helping to ensure they are ready for the challenges of the future.  Today, Thailand is standing at that critical juncture.

To see State of the World’s Children 2011 full report, click here.

 

 
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