A T H O L I C
F A M I L Y
SERVICE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CATHOLIC FAMILIES
Myths on Population
The NACF cares about families and cares
about the value of each human life. Much of the work
of the population lobbies is anti-family and anti-life.
That's why we are doing our bit to explode the myths
shown below. Information is based (with permission)
on the Population Information Pack published by The
Committee on Population and the Economy, 13 Norfolk
House, Courtlands, Sheen Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10
5AT, UK. The
following information can be freely distributed in electronic
form providing each sheet is preserved intact with this
Myth 1: There is a vast unmet need
for birth control in the 3rd world
2: Population growth causes poverty
Myth 3: Fertility rates are running
wild in the 3rd world
Myth 4: The population explosion means the world
will run out of food
Myth 5: The world is fast running out
of natural resources
6: Population growth is destroying the planet's
Myth 7: If you really care for women's
rights, you should encourage birth control
Myth 8: Birth-control programmes give
the 3rd world greater freedom of choice
Myth 9: The Chinese have done a humane
job bringing their population under control
1: There is a vast unmet need for birth control in the
3rd world. False!
who agitate for population control like to claim that
they only want to provide birth control to meet the
"unmet need" for family planning of millions
of couples who want no more children. It is currently
claimed that 120 million women worldwide suffer from
this "unmet need" This claim has been debunked
by Lant Pritchett, a senior economist at the World Bank.
Writing in Population and Development Review (March
1994) he points out that the surveys from which the
figures for "unmet need" are drawn include
every married woman who says she does not want another
child immediately but is not using contraception. However
some of these women may be infertile, some may not be
very sexually active, and some may have religious scruples
which would prevent them from using contraceptive drugs
or devices even if they were available. This brings
down the figures for "unmet need". For example
in Uganda 27% of married women are supposed to have
"unmet need" - but only 5% of the fertile
ones both wanted fewer children and were not using contraception
Pritchett claims that "Desired levels of fertility
account for 90% of differences across countries in total
fertility rates" - in other words, people in developing
countries have large families because they want large
families. They live in cultures in which it may very
well make sense for them to do so. For example, in an
agricultural community many children are an asset, as
they help on the farm.
claim otherwise is to treat third world parents with
an unwarranted degree of condescension and contempt,
as if they will "breed like rabbits" unless
an elite corps of Western pressure group activists teach
them to be "responsible". As Paul Demeny,
the editor of Population and Development Review, puts
it, it is to assume that "two billion people in
the past 30 years were added to the world's population
because their parents were too stupid to figure out
what to do"
many women (or men) have a need for family planning,
meeting it would be both cheap and easy to arrange through
primary health care programmes, and the population issue
would not be controversial if it went no further than
there is a big question mark over who actually decides
what these "needs" amount to. An article on
the Indian population programme in People, the magazine
of the International Planned Parenthood Federation,
quoted the project manager for the Family Planning Association
of India as saying of his "clients"
don't always perceive their needs. The welfare worker
has to point them out".
was only echoing the sentiments of the powerful elites
at the top of the movement. According to the World Bank
report Population Change and Economic Development (1985):
some extent family planning programmes do more than
simply satisfy unmet need; they actually generate and
then fill such need"
sort of "need" is it which has to be generated
by the same agency which intends to meet it? Not one
which afflicts the "sufferers" in any very
significant way, clearly.
economist Jacqueline Kasun summed it up in her book
The War Against Population when she wrote that the "unmet
needs" which population planners speak of "are
not those of the poor for more birth control, but their
own for further control over the lives of people".
2 : Population growth causes poverty. False!
population growth cause poverty? The obvious answer
would be yes, because the more people you have sharing
the wealth of a nation, the less there is for each person.
This view assumes that wealth is finite, like a cake
which can only be divided amongst larger numbers by
cutting it into smaller and smaller slices.
the wealth of a nation is not finite: it is created
by the productive activities of its working population.
The process of wealth creation is dependent on many
factors, but it is not hindered by population growth.
the end of the 1960s the assumption that population
growth was linked with poverty was so widespread that
no one actually looked for empirical proof. Then, in
1967, Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets published
his study which compared population growth rates and
economic growth rates of a group of countries for which
data was available for the last hundred years, to see
it countries with high rates of population growth had
low rates of economic growth. He found that there was
Kuznets and, separately, Richard Easterlin, looked at
the much larger group of countries for which data was
available from World War II and again found no connection
between rates of population growth and rates of economic
growth. Other studies which have come to the same conclusion.
In reviewing the literature for the International Union
for the Scientific Study of Population in 1983 Ronald
of studies, starting with Kuznets', have found no association
between the population growth rate and per-capita income
growth rate... These studies control for other factors
such as trade, aid and investment to varying degrees."
there is no connection between population growth and
economic growth, there is a connection, demonstrated
by several studies, between population density and economic
growth. This illustrates the truth of Danish economist
Ester Boserup's theory that populations must grow beyond
a certain minimum level before they can get into the
process of economic development. Population growth makes
possible the development of towns and the concomitant
development of specialised crafts and skills as more
and more people do not have to live off the land. This
in turn is the result of pressures on farmers, caused
by population growth, to produce more food using more
advanced techniques to meet the growing demand. Indeed
Boserup has defined a town as "a major population
centre, the inhabitants of which do not themselves produce
the food they consume". She also points out, in
a chapter for the book The Ends of the Earth (Cambridge
University Press, 1988) that the earliest civilisations
were the result of high population densities;
and some 'circumscribed areas' in Asia reached fairly
high population densities many centuries before the
Western Hemisphere or Africa (as far as we know) and
this may help to explain why we have found the oldest
urban civilisations in the Near East or Asia."
the modern world, too, we find many examples of great
wealth accompanying high population densities, for example
the Netherlands and much of Western Europe. Indeed,
the great economic success stories since World War II
have come from countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore,
Hong Kong and Japan, which have all experienced rapid
population growth and have some of the highest population
densities in the world. In Hong Kong, for example, there
are over 5,000 people per square kilometer of land.
Western nations have found the challenge from these
new tigers of the global economy so intense that they
have been reduced to erecting trade barriers to keep
out "unfair competition"
there is no link between population growth (as distinct
from population density) and economic growth, there
most certainly is a link between economic growth and
the political economy of the country concerned. Briefly,
market economies produce economic growth, while socialist
or planned economies are less successful.
demonstrate the point, American economist Julian Simon
carried out research, which was published by the Cato
Institute in 1987, based on comparisons between the
separated halves of countries which had been artificially
divided: China and Taiwan, North Korea and South Korea,
and East and West Germany. Each set of "twins"
contained a free market and a socialist partner. The
market partners were more densely populated to start
with, and experienced more rapid population growth.
By the end of the period surveyed (1950-83) West Germany
was 60% more densely populated than East Germany, South
Korea was two and a half times as densely populated
as North Korea, and Taiwan was five times more densely
populated than China. However the market partners had
experienced rates of economic growth and rises in per
capita income which dwarfed those of the socialist partners.
argument that poverty is the result of population growth
is so manifestly out of keeping with our own perceptions
of the world that it is seldom advanced now, even by
advocates of population control. In November 1989 Barber
Conable, President of the World Bank, told a meeting
of the International Planned Parenthood Federation that:
evidence is clear that economic growth rates in excess
of population growth rates can be achieved and maintained
by both developed and developing countries."
3 : Fertility rates are running wild in the Third World.
are two sorts of alarmist stories concerning birthrates.
The first focus on a "population explosion",
with high birthrates being blamed for poverty, famine
and other problems. The second warn of a "birth
dearth, "with populations having so few children
that they are unable even to replace themselves. The
concerns here are different, focusing on "race
suicide, "the lack of vitality and entrepreneurial
risk-taking skills in an aging workforce, and the problem
of paying for pensions and health care for a large elderly
population, when the younger, working-age population
"population explosion" is associated with
the developing countries; the "birth dearth"
with the rich countries. In reality, there has been
such a dramatic drop in fertility worldwide within the
last generation that the prospect of a "population
explosion" seems scarcely realistic.
Total Period Fertility Rate
Total Period Fertility Rate (TPFR) tells us the average
completed family size at a given time. In order for
the population to replace itself, women in developed
countries need to have an average of 2.1 children -
2 to replace the woman and her partner, and the 0.1
to cover people who, for various reasons, do not reproduce.
developing countries the replacement level of fertility
will be higher, owing to higher rates of mortality,
especially infant mortality. In other words, women need
to have more children to ensure that a sufficient number
grow to adulthood and reproduce to replace their parent's
are still very large differences between rich and poor
countries. For example, it is still usual in many African
countries for women to have an average of six children
or more, while in the European Union the TPFR is below
replacement level for every country except Ireland.
However the worldwide trend is down, in all continents.
Europe nearly all countries are significantly below
replacement level. The French and the British have fertility
rates which have been stable at around 1.8 for more
than ten years. In Italy - a country reputed to love
children - the TPFR is 1.25 children per woman. This
is the lowest in the world. In Eastern Europe some countries
have tried to raise the birthrate, with limited success.
African birthrate remains high, but with urbanisation
and modernisation proceeding it is estimated that there
may be a substantial drop. Nigeria, the most populous
country in Africa with nearly 90 million people, has
an estimated TPFR of 6.9 children. Whilst fertility
rates are higher in Africa, so is replacement level
owing to high rates of mortality. The replacement level
would probably be about 2.8 children per woman, rather
than 2.1. Because Africa only accounts for about 12%
of the world population the high birthrate has little
impact on global trends.
America - USA and Canada
North American birthrate has been rising in recent years,
and appears to have now reached replacement level of
2.1. In the USA and Canada there is a tradition of early
marriage and higher fertility than in Europe. The influence
of the USA through TV and films on world culture makes
it an important indicator of world trends in some respects,
but there is as yet no sign that other countries in
the Western world are following the USA towards replacement
America - Latin America and the Caribbean
there have been steep falls in fertility rates. The
two most populous countries are Brazil (150 million
people) and Mexico (90 million people). Between the
early 1970s and 1985
the TPFR in Mexico fell from 6.1 to 3.8 children per
woman, and in Brazil from 5.7 to 3.0.
pattern is similar to that for Europe and most other
developed nations, with fertility rates below replacement
level. The population is too small to influence world
majority of the world's people live in Asia. (3.1 billion
out of a total of 5.3 billion in 1990.) Population trends
in Asia therefore largely determine global trends. Some
Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, have highly
developed industrial economies and tend to imitate Western
patterns of below-replacement fertility. The TPFR in
Hong Kong fell from 2.7 in the mid 1 970s to 1.4 in
the mid 1 980s - the lowest in Asia.
it is in the large Asian countries, especially in China
(1990 pop. 1.2 billion) and India (1991 pop. 843 million),
which between them account for more than a third of
the world's population, that the steep fall in fertility
rates in recent years is most apparent. This is partly
owing to the strong preference for sons in these countries,
which has led to the widespread use of ultrasonic scanning
equipment to detect the sex of unborn babies, with a
view to aborting females. The fertility rate (TPFR)
which is required to achieve replacement level of the
population is affected by the ratio of males to females
in the population. If steps are taken which interfere
with the natural balance of males and females in live
births, this alters the level of fertility needed to
replace the population.
China's Missing Million
shortage of female births is at its most extreme in
China. China operates the world's largest and most coercive
population programme - the famous one-child-per-couple
policy. This has led to a resurgence of the traditional
Chinese practice of female infanticide, as "son
preference" is very strong in Chinese culture.
Many parents are unwilling to accept a daughter as an
only child. The shortfall of female births is so extreme
that the ratio of male-female
births has been estimated at 1.6 to 1.0, and it appears
that birth statistics are a million females "light"
each year. Taking into account Chinese levels of mortality
and infant mortality, which are good by the standards
of developing countries, this gives a replacement fertility
level of 2.8 children per woman.
one-child policy is more strictly enforced in the towns
(where the TPFR is given as 1.5) than in the countryside
(where it is 2.8). Speaking at the London School of
Economics in November 1993, Dr X.-Z. Peng, Director
of Population Studies in Shanghai University, said that
the one-child policy should really be called the 1.6
child policy, as he believed this to be the true TPFR.
(It had been 5.4 in 1971 - an unprecedented drop.) This
means that fertility levels in China are running at
only 57% of what is required to replace the population
- a more extreme shortfall than anything experienced
by Western European nations. The demographic problems
facing China will soon be more like those associated
with the "birth death" than the "population
4 : The population explosion means the world will run
out of food. False!
Ever since the population control movement got into
its stride in the 1 960s one of the most frequently
used scare stories has been the prospect of starvation
and famine as a result of population growth. Paul Ehrlich
began his famous book The Population Bomb (1968) with
the words: "The battle to feed all of humanity
is over. In the 1970s and l980s hundreds of millions
of people will starve to death". This fear went
right back to the famous Essay on Population by Rev
Thomas Malthus in 1798, in which he had predicted famine
as the inevitable consequence of population growth.
Malthus believed that population grew geometrically
(2-4-8-16 etc) while food production grew arithmetically(1-2-3-4
was quite wrong on this key point: food production is
quite capable of keeping ahead of population growth.
In 1965 Danish economist Ester Boserup published her
landmark study The Conditions of Agricultural Growth,
in which she argued that it is not increases in food
production which cause population growth it is the other
way around. Population growth is necessary to force
communities to abandon very primitive means of getting
food, such as the hunter gatherer lifestyle or inefficient
farming practices like forest fallow, and take up more
intensive methods like ploughing with livestock. As
growing populations become more specialised (in other
words, people do not all live off the land) farmers
have a greater incentive to increase food production,
as they will have larger markets to sell into. Population
growth is a good thing as it propels communities forward,
from primitive to developed lifestyles.
have proved Boserup to be right. Since the first publication
of her book the population of the world has nearly doubled,
but food production has kept well ahead., based on figures
from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
United Nations figures show there has been a rise of
over 30% in the period 1951-92 in food production per
capita, that is to say the amount of food which would
be available to each person in the world if it were
divided equally. This has occurred in spite of the fact
that Western farmers are paid millions of dollars a
year to keep land out of production. If these European
and American farmers were to produce to their capacity,
food prices would collapse as a result of the glut.
November 1993 the World Bank produced The World Food
Outlook which anticipated further improvements in the
world food situation. Here are some of its conclusions:
food production has more than kept pace with population
growth and rates of growth of food production show few
signs of slowing. During the 1 980s, world cereals production
increased by 2. 1% per annum while population grew by
1.7%.. prospects are very good that the 20-year period
from 1990-2010 will see further gains
World Bank's index of food commodity prices fell by
78% from 1950-1992 in constant 1990 prices
land and water are abundant according to most estimates...
Only 11 % of the world's land surface is currently used
for agricultural crops, and by one commonly accepted
estimate, the world's land and water use for agriculture
could more than double.
proportion of the developing countries' population suffering
from chronic undernutrition has declined.. from 36%
during the late 1960s to 20% during the late 1980s."
report concludes that "If Malthus is ultimately
correct in his warning that population growth will outstrip
food production, then at least we can say: Malthus Must
The problem of Africa
we talk of increases in food per capita we are dealing
in averages. In reality food is not shared equally between
the peoples of the world, and when we break down the
figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation we see great variations between continents.
show that the disastrous performance of African countries
is clearly dragging world averages down, as well as
causing most of the highly publicised famines. However
this has nothing to do with "overpopulation".
Asian countries have also experienced high rates of
population growth and have achieved some of the highest
population densities in the world, whilst still increasing
food output per capita. Africa's problems stem from
government programmes of intervention in agriculture
which have been characterised by such crippling anti-market
policies as the forced collectivisation of land, the
establishment of monopoly purchasing boards for principal
crops, the persistent underpayment of farmers and the
favouring of urban elites. These have been coupled with
chronic political instability in many countries, resulting
in wars and civil wars. African famine is a political,
not a demographic, phenomenon.
in Africa it is not all gloom. Where market mechanisms
are allowed to operate, population growth and increased
prosperity have gone hand in hand. In 1994 scientists
from the Overseas Development Institute published More
People, Less Erosion, a study of the Machakos district
in Kenya between the 1930s and the present. Over the
period population had increased by more than five times,
but agricultural output had increased by about three
times per head of population, and by ten times per hectare
of land. The steepest increase had occurred in the period
since 1977, when population density was increasing at
its fastest rate with no new land available.
the 1950s and 1960s agricultural economists used to
try to calculate the maximum number of people the world
could support based on potential food production. The
numbers ranged between 30 and 50 billion - when the
global population now is less than 6 billion, and no
one would seriously envisage this sort of increase.
fact, rates of population growth are projected to fall
by some 40% by the year 2025. At the same time, there
is every chance that agricultural yields will continue
to rise thanks to advances in technology. The World
Bank report mentioned above looks forward to the transformation
of the former USSR and other Eastern European countries
from net importers to net exporters of food. Those who
demand population control must look to other arguments
than food shortages.
5 : The world is fast running out of natural resources.
Ever since people began to worry about population growth,
one of the principal justifications for population control
has been the fear that natural resources would be exhausted
by a combination of more people and higher living standards.
In 1972 The Club of Rome published its famous tract
The Limits to Growth which fixed the dates at which
known reserves of certain resources would run out. The
calculations included the following predictions of complete
exhaustion: Copper 1993; Gold 1981; Lead 1993; Mercury
1985; Natural Gas 1994; Petroleum 1992; Silver 1985;
Tin 1987. The authors then made another set of calculations
based on the assumption that total reserves of these
resources in the earth's crust would amount to five
times the reserves known at the time. The dates for
exhaustion moved on as follows: Copper 2020; Lead 2036;
Mercury 2013; Natural Gas 2021; Petroleum 2022; Silver
2014; Tin 2033.
of these dates have now passed, or are very close, and
the world is much richer in these resources than it
was in 1972.
of doom based on the exhaustion of resources are not
new. In 1865 W. Stanley Jevons, a leading economist,
predicted the end of industrial development owing to
the exhaustion of coal in his book The Coal Question.
"We cannot long continue our present rate of progress"
he wrote," [This] check for our growing prosperity.
. must render our population excessive". Jevons
illustrated his book with a graph showing coal consumption
rising from about 80 million tons a year in his own
day to 2.6 billion tons a year by the 1 960s. In fact,
by the end of the 1 980s, coal consumption in Britain
was running at about 120 million tons, and total energy
consumption in coal equivalent - in other words, if
Britain had no oil, gas etc - was only about 340 million
tons a year.
forecasts fail to take into account the fact that increasing
demand, whether it be due to population growth, rising
living standards or both, is beneficial to the supply
of any resource. It stimulates the search for further
reserves; it encourages technical progress in extracting,
transporting and marketing it; and, most important,
rising demand encourages ingenious individuals to find
alternative methods of doing whatever it is we want
these reasons the availability of natural resources,
as measured by price, has been increasing and not decreasing
for as far back as we can trace. American economist
Julian Simon has shown, in books like The Ultimate Resource
and Population Matters that, when measured against a
constant value like our labour, the price of all resources,
including minerals, food and energy, has fallen dramatically.
For example the price of copper compared with wages
in the USA has dropped from ~8.0 in 1800 to 1.0 in 1900
and a stable 0.2 in the 1980s.
order to prove the doomsayers wrong, Simon made a bet
with Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, to
show that resources are not becoming scarce. The bet
was based on the value of $1,000 worth of resources,
with the choice of resources and the timescale left
to Ehrlich. If the prices rose in real terms, that would
prove scarcity; if they fell, that would show increased
availability. Ehrlich chose copper, chrome, nickel,
tin and tungsten, and a ten year span. The bet expired
at the end of 1990, by which stage the original $1,000
worth of resources were worth $423.93. Ehrlich sent
Simon a cheque for the balance.
is important to remember that resources are not valuable
to us in themselves, but only for what they can do.
The new technology means we are less and less dependent
on resources, as we keep finding new ways to do things.
For example, the silicon for silicon chips is found
in sand, to which there is no realistic limit. As Fred
Smith, President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
has argued in Reason (September 1993) in connection
with communications technology:
tons of copper can be replaced by as little as 25 kilograms
of silicon... Moreover, the fibre optics system has
the ability to carry over 1,000 times the information
of the old copper wire...It is the interaction
of man and science that creates resources: sand and
knowledge become fibre optics.
advocates of population control now recognise that the
exhaustion of resources is scarcely credible as a reason
for reducing births. In 1986 the US National Academy
of Sciences produced a report entitled Population Growth
and Economic Development which reversed many of the
Academy's former alarmist claims about population growth,
and included the statement that: "There
is little reason to be concerned about the rate at which
population growth is depleting the stock of exhaustible
6 : Population growth is destroying the planet's environment.
case for population control is increasingly based upon
the assumption that population growth is bad for the
environment. To Western lobbyists it seems almost self
evident that more people make for a more polluted and
degraded environment. However, many of the dramatic
claims of desertification, deforestation and soil degradation
are not supported by research, and have more to do with
pressure group politics than science.
working in the field have increasingly come to recognise
that the relationship, if any, between population and
the environment is a complicated one, in which many
factors interact. This view was expressed by University
of Michigan demographer Gay Ness in her article Population
and the Environment Framework for Analysis (1994):
is no simple and direct relationship between population
and the environment. Identifiable forms of technology
and social organisation mediate impacts in both directions.
It is only through these that either population or the
environment affect one another."
other words, population growth and environmental deterioration
may occur at the same time; they may be connected, or
the environmental problems could be caused by some other
factor. On the other hand, population growth can sometimes
accompany improvements in the environment, and may even
be the cause of them.
the Kano close-settled zone of Northern Nigeria soil
surveys taken 20 years apart showed no significant signs
soil degradation, in spite of the fact that population
had grown and crop yields had increased substantially
over the period. The explanation was that the population
of sheep and goats increased with the humans. These
were tethered during the growing season, then their
dung was put out as manure specifically placed for each
cereal plant. Also, by careful examination of aerial
photographs over 30 years it is evident that tree densities
have increased - largely to feed the growing numbers
of small livestock.
the semi-arid Machakos district of Kenya there was great
concern over irreparable environmental degradation"
in the 1930s and 1 940s, largely as the result of the
loss of topsoil following heavy rains after droughts.
In their book More People, Less Erosion (1993), which
surveys the area from 1930 to the present day, Michael
Mortimore and Mary Tiffen compared photographs of the
same landscapes taken 50 or 60 years apart which showed
dramatic improvements. Cultivated fields and increased
tree cover had replaced scarred landscapes of scrub
cut through by gullies. This was in spite of the fact
that the population had increased by five times, and
agricultural output by ten times per hectare and by
three times per head. The explanation lay in the construction
of terraces on the hillsides to retain moisture, which
also had the effect of stopping soil erosion. This involved
labour intensive technology, which only became possible
with population growth, coupled with access to a good
market outlet for food surpluses. A nationwide survey
of Kenyan smallholder farmers indicated that this is
no local anomaly, for the same kinds of positive change
were to be found in all areas of high population density.
is the name given to the supposed process by which deserts
are spreading as the result of intensive and inappropriate
farming methods caused by population growth. However
careful, long term studies like Michael Mortimore's
Adapting to Drought (Cambridge University Press, 1989)
suggest that both the landscapes and the people are
tougher and more adaptable than this model would suggest.
In the zones d'attent around the Mali inland delta drought
and political problems concentrated livestock in one
area, causing extensive deforestation and sheet erosion.
Herders responded by increasing the ratio of sheep and
goats to cattle. Goats browsed the acacia pods and scarified
the seeds during digestion. When the rains improved
in the early 1990s, much of the zones d'attent became
re-afforested with acacia.
the densely populated Ethiopian Highlands per capita
fuel consumption is up to ten times less than in the
rest of sub-Saharan Africa- a fact which was unrecognised
in a major study determining Ethiopia's past fuelwood
policy. Those who have stopped to look, rather than
just making assumptions, have noted a cooking technology
in which the fermentation of the staple t'ef cereal
lessens the time required for cooking the wide injera
pancakes. Similar observations hold true when other
cultures with high population densities are examined:
both India and China have developed or taken up similar
efficient fuel-saving techniques.
idea that countries and districts have a certain "carrying
capacity" of population has been used as the basis
for claims that tropical grasslands have become over-cultivated
and over-populated. However, the concept of a fixed
"carrying capacity" is inappropriate. "Over-grazed"
waterholes receive higher dung inputs and so produce
more grass. "Over-cultivated" areas precipitate
the crises which lead to intensification and more efficient
resource recycling, which in turn increases the "carrying
capacity" of the land - sometimes by as much as
ten times. Where cattle and human population densities
have increased there has been a move towards agro-pastoralism
(i.e. mixed farming involving crops and animals) and
a decrease in sleeping sickness due to the falling numbers
of tsetse fly which result. (see David Bourne and Stephen
Wint, Nigerian Livestock Resources, 1993).
of deforestation which threaten the very existence of
rainforests have been blamed on population growth and
increased human use of forest resources. However many
of these estimates of forest clearance have been exaggerated
through failure to include the rates at which forests
regenerate themselves. There has been particular concern
about the loss of "pristine" Amazonian rainforest,
which is supposed to have been never previously disturbed
by man. In fact much of this "pristine" rainforest
was cleared for maize cultivation prior to the 16th
century. Paradoxically, these areas which were farmed
before returning to forest cover often have greater
bio-diversity (i.e. more species) than the primary forests.
paper presented to a preparatory meeting of the United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
by the Overseas Development Administration in 1991 warned
that, as the links between population and the environment
are so complex, "any policy conclusions have therefore
to reflect this lack of a firm empirical foundation".
In other words, we need to tread carefully if we are
hoping to persuade people to have fewer children for
the sake of the environment. They may be living at a
time and place at which larger families would actually
7 : If you really care for women's rights, you should
encourage birth-control. False!
1974 the National Security Council of the United States
presented to the President a study on The Implications
of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas
Interests. It warned that population growth in the third
world might present "political or even national
security problems for the US", but that efforts
by the US to control it might be seen as imperialism.
It therefore recommended that all such efforts be couched
in terms of "the right of the individual to determine
freely and responsibly the number and spacing of children..
.and the fundamental social and economic development
of poor countries."
linking of population control with demands for reproductive
rights was crucial to the progress of the movement.
It enabled population controllers to "tap in"
to the growing feminist movement, with its demands for
freedom of choice in matters of childbearing. The population
controllers effectively high-jacked the language and
agenda of the feminist movement. Regrettably, many Western
feminists were willing to lend it support, on the basis
that it made contraception and abortion available to
third world women. They did not reflect that the use
of these technologies might not be voluntary. Nor did
they question the assumption, so common amongst Western
lobby groups, that the interests of white, Western,
middle class activists might not be the same as those
of poor, third world people.
have seen in recent years the emergence of a major feminist
backlash against population control, with the formation
of groups like Health Action International in Amsterdam
and FlNNRAGE (Feminist International Network for Resistance
Against Reproductive Technologies and Genetic Engineering).
involved with these groups have insisted that women's
interests are not served by population programmes which
put the achievement of demographic targets above women's
health needs. According to the HAI publication A Question
of Control (1992):
are many problems in the way contraceptives are provided
in third world countries. Many women only have access
to services which try to limit population growth. This
affects the kind of choice they are given and the type
of health care they receive... Governments that aim
to reduce population growth by imposing targets for
the number of acceptors of contraception and by introducing
incentives and disincentives to encourage use often
fail to fully acknowledge women's reproductive rights."
publications like Norplant: Under Her Skin (1993: Women's
Health Action Foundation) and Vaccination against Pregnancy
(1993: Health Action International) feminist writers
from around the world give examples of the ways in which
women's rights are violated by population programmes,
when they are pressured to have fewer children to meet
government targets. Third world women are often not
told of the side effects of the different methods of
birth control, which may be more severe for malnourished
and poor women than they would be for rich Western women.
There is also a worrying move towards "provider
dependent" methods, which can only be controlled
by medical staff and not by the woman herself. Implants
like Norplant and Depo Provera may render a woman infertile
for years. If she changes her mind and wants a child,
she may not be able to have them removed in a country
in which the doctors are under pressure from central
government to reduce births.
Vaccination against Pregnancy Judith Richter
writes of fears that any vaccination which can render
the woman's immune system dysfunctional in a way which
would prevent pregnancy occurring is open to serious
abuse, particularly as vaccination is welcomed in third
world countries as a means of warding off fatal diseases:
fears arise in part from the goals of the organisations
who are carrying out or are funding the research. Many
of the... statements indicate that the development of
immunological contraceptives is at least partially motivated
by the search for more effective controls over population
growth... National governments are under pressure from
industrialised countries and international organisations
to implement population control programmes as a precondition
for loans or foreign aid. As a result, coercive use
of contraceptives is likely to occur."
feminist Farida Akhter has exposed the racist, eugenicist
and elitist nature of population programmes in the third
world in her book Depopulating Bangladesh (1992), in
which she repeats this story which she heard the Family
Planning Officer of Upazilla in Bangladesh telling a
are only nine cabins in the steamer launch which comes
from Dhaka to Patuakhali. In the nine cabins only 18
people can travel. The ticket is expensive, so only
rich people travel in the cabins. The rest of the common
passengers travel in the deck. The latrine facility
is provided only for the cabin passengers. But sometimes
the passengers from the deck want to use the latrines.
The cabin passengers allow them to use the latrines
because they are afraid that if the poor deck passengers
get angry then they might go down and make a hole in
the launch. And so, my dear sisters, do not give birth
to more children as they cause problems for the cabin
population groups claim to liberate women from patriarchal
oppression, Farida Akhter quotes Bangladeshi women who
say: "Before our husbands made the decisions, now
the government does." She was one of the principal
organisers of a symposium on population held in Comilla,
Bangladesh in December 1993 which produced a Declaration
(population control) agencies are now attempting to
set the agenda for women's movements and organisations
by co-opting their language to legitimise population
control policies... many women around the world are
resisting this... Meeting women 's needs should be de-linked
from population policy including those expressed as
apparent humanitarian concerns for women... For all
these reasons we state again that there cannot be a
feminist population control policy and our voices cannot
be used to legitimise anti-women, anti-poor and anti-nature
population control policies"
The feminist challenge
activists had high hopes of promoting population control
at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, but they
were disappointed. Publicly they found it convenient
to blame the Catholic church, but privately they admitted
the real threat to their aims from feminist opposition.
An article in People and the Planet, the magazine of
the International Planned Parenthood Federation, warned
feminists.. assaulted... foreign-funded projects as
a mechanistic attempt to control population growth at
the expense of women.. .As the LDC (less developed countries)
feminist movement grows, so may its ability to challenge
foreign-supported operations in their respective countries."
8 : Birth control programmes give the Third World greater
freedom of choice. False!
most critical point to comprehend in the debate surrounding
population is the difference between family planning
and population control.
PLANNING represents the decisions taken by couples,
in the light of their own beliefs and circumstances,
as to the number and spacing of their children.
CONTROL represents decisions by governments and international
agencies as to the number of children couples ought
to have, followed by measures to bring this about.
two concepts are fundamentally different. Family planning
increases freedom of choice: population control restricts
activists claim that they are only interested in providing
couples with family planning. They portray those who
disagree with them as being against "women's rights",
as if opponents of population programmes want to force
people to have more children than they want.
reality, these programmes almost always involve elements
of coercion which infringe the principle of freedom
of choice. The real defenders of women's rights and
the freedom to choose are those who oppose population
control, and insist that couples are left to make their
own choices in this most intimate area of their private
Types of coercion
are different types of coercion built into population
programmes. At the simplest level is the anti-natalist
propaganda using advertising campaigns and third world
broadcast media outlets to promote the ideal of the
small family and to portray parents of large families
as irresponsible and anti-social.
next stage is the manipulation of tax and welfare structures
to bribe people to have small families and to punish
those who dare to exceed the limits. For example the
1984 World Bank report Population Change and Economic
Development contained the following examples:
women in the government service are allowed paid maternity
leave only once every three years.
Children from smaller families given priority in school
Free medical care and education allowances to two-child
families providing one of the parents has been sterilised.
Technical assistance in farm production made available
to contraceptive users. Participants in the programme
provided with the services of a "family planning
bull" to impregnate their cattle.
World Bank's World Development Report 1980 described
the so-called "village system of family planning"
developed in Indonesia. Monthly village council meetings
would begin with a roll call at which every man would
have to announce the form of birth control which he
and his wife were using. When the village reached a
certain target percentage of "acceptors" of
family planning, the government would reward them with
food supplements, health services, road repairs or a
clean water supply. It can easily be imagined that couples
who did not want to participate would soon come under
intolerable pressure, as they would be the ones holding
their neighbours back from obtaining these valuable
1993 publication Norplant Under Her Skin from the Women's
Health Action Foundation in The Netherlands reveals
that these coercive measures are not a thing of the
past. According to Jannemieke Hanhart, author of the
chapter on Indonesia:
new policy... is that couples of reproductive age need
to have a family planning card if they want an official
letter from the government. An official letter is needed
if a person wants to sell or buy land, to get a bank
loan, to get permission to organised circumcision, hair
cutting rituals and important events".
planning workers are set targets by the government which
have to be met. According to one:
the target is still high and has not yet been reached
and the people are difficult to reach, the army makes
them a little bit afraid so that they are willing to
come together for a family planning session"
international conference on population produces grandiloquent
statements claiming to support reproductive rights and
the freedom to choose. How, then, can population lobbyists
support programmes which clearly violate both principles?
The answer lies in the wording of the declarations.
1974 UN Population Conference in Bucharest produced
a declaration which has been the basis for every subsequent
one stating that:
couples and individuals have the basic right to decide
freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their
children... the responsibility of couples and individuals
in the exercise of this right takes into account the
needs of their living and future children and their
responsibilities towards the community."
weasel word here is "responsibility". Who
is to decide what constitutes "responsible"
reproductive behaviour, particularly vis-à-vis
future generations? The government? The United Nations?
The World Bank? And suppose couples are "irresponsible"
enough to want more children than their government's
population target allows? Are they still "free"
to make that decision?
is clear from the way in which population programmes
have operated that the freedom to choose means, in effect,
the freedom to choose a small family but not a large
one. For this reason, declarations on human rights emerging
from international population conferences are worthless.
9 : The Chinese have done a humane job bringing their
population under control. False!
W. Mosher writes : 'Since 1979 the Chinese state
has aggressively used birth targets to curb China's
population growth. Millions of Chinese couples have
seen their desire for children thwarted by the state.
Those living in the cities have been limited to one
child, while those in the countryside have been allowed
no more than two.
was an eyewitness to that programme in its opening stages.
In the spring of 1979, Chinese officials first announced
their ambitious plan to limit China's population to
1.2 billion by the year 2000. Not surprisingly given
the recent history of the Peoples Republic of China
the tone of the programme was coercive from the first.
"Socialism should make it possible to regulate
the reproduction of human beings," explained the
head of the State Family Planning Council, Chen Muhua,
implying that the full organisational might of the Communist
Party would be brought to bear to regulate this most
intimate of family matters. And so it was.
in a Chinese village during 1979 - 80, I saw women in
the second and third trimesters of pregnancy taken away
from their homes and families to a town many miles distant.
There they were incarcerated and told that they would
not be allowed to return until they had submitted to
an abortion. Abortions were performed up to the very
point of parturition on women whose consent had been
given for the operation only under extreme duress. Not
only incarceration, but heavy fines, lengthy "study"
sessions, and threats of infanticide had been used to
break their will to resist.
demands of China's family planners escalated as the
Eighties unfolded. The one-child policy, first adumbrated
by Deng Xiaoping in a 1979 speech, was in place nationwide
by 1981. The "technical policy on family planning"
followed two years later. Still in force today, the
technical policy requires IUDs for women of child bearing
age with one child, sterilisation for couples with two
children (usually performed on the women, although the
law is not specific as to sex), and abortions for women
pregnant without authorisation. By the mid-eighties,
according to Chinese government statistics, birth control
surgeries - abortions, sterilisations, and IUD insertions
- were averaging more than 30 million a year. Many if
not most of these procedures were performed on women
who submitted only under duress.
are those who violate the one child policy, although
they pay a heavy price for doing so. Among these were
the Chens, who live in Zhuhai, a Special Economic Zone
in Guangdong Province designated for foreign investment.
Chen's wife wanted another baby. With her only child,
a boy, set to enter primary school the following year,
and Chen himself, a truck driver, on the road much of
the time, she was home alone.
husband at first tried to dissuade her, reminding her
of the fines, meetings, and other pressures to which
they would be subjected if she conceived a second child.
"For a worker in a state factory, their are no
exceptions to the one child rule allowed", Chen
explained, "I told her I could be fired from my
job but she would not listen"
wife found a midwife who, for a fee of twenty dollars,
stiff by Chinese standards, was willing to perform an
illegal procedure: remove the Intrauterine device (IUD)
that had been automatically inserted following the birth
of her first child. After an anxious wait of several
months, she became pregnant.
staying at home most of the time, Chen's wife was able
to hide her pregnancy from the population control workers
for several months. Her growing reclusiveness eventually
made them suspicious, however, and they ordered her
to go in for a pelvic examination.
bluntly explained what that meant. "It they discovered
that she was pregnant they would order her to have an
abortion. " By this time fully supportive of his
wife, he would not accept this outcome.
millions of Chinese whose plans for a second child have
aroused official ire Chen opted for "child birth
on the run ". His wife would go to live with a
cousin in a neighbouring county until she gave birth.
Chen was expecting censure, he was taken aback by its
intensity. Each day at work he was required to report
to the vice director of his factory who badgered him
for information about his wife's whereabouts. Each evening
at home he was visited by a birth control delegation,
the members of which tirelessly insisted that "For
the sake of the nation, the community, the factory,
and the modernisation programme, your wife's pregnancy
must be terminated". And each week at political
meetings he was publicly singled out as a bad example
to the rest of the workers, whereupon even his friends
were obliged to criticise him.
an angular faced man with a shock of unruly black hair,
refused to buckle under this pressure. She has left
me, he said of his wife, because I would not allow her
to keep the child. I do not know where she has gone.
He was not believed, and the campaign against him continued.
took two months for the factory director to conclude
that Chen could not be broken. Taking another tack,
he ordered the factory's dozen purchasing agents and
sales representatives to fan out and make enquiries
in the towns and villages of the surrounding district,
promising a bonus to the one who located the missing
wife. It was one of their number who, discovering that
Chen frequently detoured to a certain village on his
runs, contacted the authorities there. Chen's wife was
found and brought back in February of this year, seven
that she would escape again given the chance, the factory
director ordered her confined to the factory dormitory.
At least one member of the birth control committee was
with her at all times, badgering her to accept an abortion,
hinting that she had no choice. Separated from her husband,
so distraught that she was not able to eat or sleep,
she was no match for this relentless "thought work"
Going into the ninth month of pregnancy, she accepted
was immediately taken to the local medical clinic and
given an injection of an abortifacient drug. This shot,
universally called a "poison shot" in China,
causes the fetus to be born dead or dying 24 - 48 hours
later. "They didn't even tell me she was in the
clinic until they had already given her the injection",
Chen ended ruefully.
scholar Steven Mosher is the Director of the Asian Studies
Centre at the Claremont Institute, California. His books
include "Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese"
and "A Mother's Ordeal One Woman's Fight Against
China's One-Child Policy"
Note: The Chinese population programme is partly
funded by British taxpayers' money, which is channeled
by the Overseas Development Administration through the
United Nations Population Fund and the International
Planned Parenthood Federation.
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