The World Welcomes ‘Baby 7 Billion,’ but What Does Her Future Hold?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Camile Galura cuddles her newborn daughter Danica Camacho while her mother receives a cake minutes after she was born in Manila, Philippines on October 31, 2011. (Photo: Dennis M. Sabanga / EPA)

According to U.N. demographers, today, Oct. 31, marks a population milestone: 7 billion. (See TIME’s special report: The World At 7 Billion) Although there is some debate as to where, exactly, the 7 billionth child was born —Plan International, for one, says the title goes to India—U.N. officials bestowed the symbolic honor on Danica Mae Camacho, a girl born early this morning at a government hospital in Manila. She was welcomed to the world by her parents, Camille Dalura and Florante Camacho, a host officials and the press. She was given a cake marked “7B Philippines” and a gift certificate for free shoes.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing if Danica is, in fact, the world’s 7 billionth resident; in many ways, it doesn’t matter. The purpose of “7 Billion Day” is to call attention to global population growth and tiny Danica is just one, small part of the story. Still, as a symbol, she has much to say. The world’s 7 billionth person was born in the Philippines, a fast-growing, Catholic-majority Southeast Asian nation. The country’s fertility rate is well above the global average and access to modern contraception is low.  Although birth control is legal in most parts of the country, it is oftentimes discouraged and rarely subsidized. The country’s affluent minority buys pills or condoms from private clinics, but many women go without. The result: unplanned pregnancies, unsafe, clandestine abortions and relatively poor maternal health.

Sadly, the situation is similar in many parts of the world.  Just over half of all women of reproductive age in the developing world live in sub-Saharan Africa, South Central Asia and Southeast Asia, shows research from the Guttmacher Institute.  An estimated 70% of women in these regions have an unmet needs for contraception and, perhaps unsurprisingly, these region see a disproportionate share (66%) of unintended pregnancies and almost all (93%) of maternal deaths.

Are Danica and her “7 Billion Day” peers doomed to the same fate? Hardly. In the 1950s, the average woman gave birth to 6 kids. Today, that figure is 2.5.  Economic development, the education and empowerment of women, family planning and accessible abortion are known to reduce fertility rates and improve women’s health. What’s missing in the Philippines and elsewhere is the political will to make reproductive rights a policy priority. Let’s hope that changes soon.

More from TIME: Visit our special section, ‘The World at 7 Billion.

Emily Rauhala is an Associate Editor at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @emilyrauhala. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.