Bangladesh, in south Asia, is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 1999, its average GNP per person was just US$380. About 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s 129 million people are rural dwellers and work in farming. The farms are tiny, averaging less than one hectare. One third of farm workers are labourers who own no land at all.
Despite its poverty, Bangladesh’s population doubled between 1970 and 2000. Since 1975 the Bangladesh government has tried to slow the rate of growth by promoting family planning, which is part of the anti-natalist policies.
Its family planning programme includes:
– laws which have raised the age of marriage to 18 for women and 21 for men
– support for full-time area health workers who provide a contraception service
– better healthcare for mothers and their babies – only when women are sure that their children will survive will they limit their families to just two or three children
– improving women’s education – studies have shown that the higher the level of literacy among women, the fewer children they have, because they do not have enough time to take care of their children if they have a full-time job
These policies have had some success. In 1981, only 18 per cent of adults practiced family planning, but by 1995 this figure increased to nearly 45 per cent.
As a result, the average number of children born to each woman fell from 6 in 1981 to 2.9 in 2000 (see Figure 1).
However, some obstacles to the acceptance of family planning still remain.
– Islam is the dominant religion and many women are governed by purdah. This means that they cannot leave home without permission and must cover themselves when they do so, which makes it difficult for health workers to contact women.
– Despite government legislation, early marriage is still common. Girls often marry by the age of 13 and have their first baby within a year.