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“In my village, as an educated man and one with a job, the expectation on me is that I should have as many children as there are my departed ancestors,” said Simon Muyanga Lutaaya a presenter at one of Uganda’s television channels.

“Having many children remains a source of prestige in some communities. Until such communities begin to appreciate the need for manageable families and a quality population, the cycle of poverty will continue.” Lutaaya’s was just one of the voices heard at Uganda’s chapter of the global review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda currently underway.

The Population Secretariat, in partnership with UNFPA, brought together media, civil society, youth networks and decision makers to reflect on progress and suggest recommendations to strengthen implementation of the ICPD agenda beyond 2014. The resounding message was to address population issues in the drive towards becoming a middle income status country.

Participants were concerned about Uganda’s rapid population growth and related challenges and its implications for development. At a rate of 3.2%, each year, Uganda’s population growth is one of the highest in Africa.

The population increase has meant that unplanned pregnancies overwhelm health care, big numbers of dependents threaten families’ wellbeing; large numbers of children overwhelm Uganda’s education programmes, the review meetings heard. Large numbers of unskilled young people affect the country’s ability to generate employment while practices like early marriages threaten the wellbeing of girls. “For instance, in Kaliro, in Eastern Uganda, a girl is deemed ready for marriage when she begins menstruation. Early marriage contributes to high rates of teenage pregnancy in the region,” said Lutaaya.

Participants noted with appreciation that Uganda has made progress, with improvements in school enrolment, increased use of family planning, increased birth taking place in health centers and increased awareness on gender issues. But much more needs to be done.

Uganda needs a quality population. Deliberate efforts must be made to get us there. As long as access to quality health services, including family planning, combined with emphasis on education and employment are prioritized, Uganda’s desire to propel itself towards social economic development with a truly quality population can be accelerated.