The Jakarta Post
As the Indonesian people achieve a longer average lifespan as a result of declining mortality rates, they have maintained a high birth rate. There are currently 65 million young people in Indonesia, the largest generation of young people that Indonesia has ever seen. The Jakarta Post's Hans Nicholas Jong recently talked to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Babatunde Osotimehin during his visit to Jakarta where he identified strategic ways in which Indonesia could capitalize on its demographic dividend.
Question: After hearing about the government's human development programs, do you think Indonesia is on the right track?
Answer: There's actually a commitment, but this is a long-distance race. So we need to continue to engage with the government to make sure that proper investments are made and continue to be made, because it's not automatic.
It's something that we must work for and we must invest in.
So what I see is there's a willingness and a leadership around and I think they just need to continue to do this.
Indonesia's fertility rate has remained at 2.6 births per woman. How will this affect Indonesia's demography post 2015?
Whereas Indonesia used to be the leader in the family planning arena a long time ago, it hasn't really done what it was supposed to do in the last decade.
I know that the government is reforming with great leadership. In my conversations with the Vice President [Jusuf Kalla] and several ministers they were convinced that this is going to be quite significant moving forward.
That's why the government has accepted hosting this year's international conference on family planning because I think they want to demonstrate their willingness and commitment.
But there are also structural problems that we need to address, such as early marriage, girls' education and so on.
What went wrong with Indonesia?
I think leadership is an important issue. Once leadership is not focused on it [then no progress will be made].
It requires leadership, investment and accountability. It's not a given thing. It's something that you have to work on.
Talking about sexual and reproductive health in Indonesia, have religious issues hampered the government's family planning program?
We appreciate and understand that but we also know that it has to do with working in a unique way with religious leaders and scholars to get past that, to enable children to realize their full potential.
A woman who goes to school and stays in school realizes her full agency and she becomes a more useful member of society than girls who have children too early.
Family planning doesn't go against religion. It is a technology that enables parents to plan their families.
We have the technology that enables a woman to have the kind of life she wants to have as well as health.
What's a little disturbing is that the maternal mortality rate in Indonesia is high. It is one of the countries in this region whose rate is going up. So it is very worrisome.
[The mothers] who tend to die are those who are younger. So we're coming back to the issue of early marriage.
If you provide access to family planning to women, you can reduce maternal mortality by 30 percent. So there's science behind it. There's no ideology in terms of pushing it.
It's just a matter of making sure that women have access and they're able to look after their bodies and provide for their children in a very solid way.
Do you think gender-responsive policies are the way to go?
Yes of course, it's important to have them. It's not just gender. Gender is important for everything. So gender equality is a major issue that we have to defend all the time.
Beyond that is also the ability and the rights of women to make choices in their lives.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani said the reason why the family planning program had not been working recently was because it was contradicted by the national health insurance (JKN) program, as the latter encourages people to have more children as the cost of giving birth is covered by the government. What do you think?
I don't think it's contradictory because within the framework of maternal health, family planning should be included.
In fact, maternal health could save more lives but also give them rights to make choices.
What's the latest stage of discussion surrounding the topic of the demographic dividend for the post-2015 development agenda?
When we're talking about Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], people should be at the center of that. And young people, who are going to be the beneficiaries of this, should actually be featured in that.
The difference is huge between the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] and the SDGs. MDGs [covered limited] development progress. We have eight goals.
But the new SDGs actually go across sectors, talking about energy, climate change, human rights and so on.
I think we have a totally different perspective. But within this new set of goals, we still talk about the reduction of maternal mortality. So we have to continue advocating it.