In 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children.
Forty years later, modern contraception remains out of reach for hundreds of millions of women, men and young people.
This year’s World Population Day theme, “It’s a right, Let’s make it happen,” reaffirms the right of people to plan their families.
Rwanda’s population is estimated at 8.8 million (2005, Ministry of Health statistics) is set to double to 16 million by 2020 at its current annual growth rate of 2.7 percent.
With a land area of 26,340 square kilometers Rwanda’s population density is one of the highest in Africa. Fertility rate according to Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (2005), stands at 6.1 with Rwandan women on average giving birth to six children.
This surge in population growth results in enormous pressure on government’s provision of social services like health, education, employment, water, sanitation and housing. It also undermines the government’s efforts to effectively fight poverty and achieve social economic transformation and development.
Recently, in an interview with The New Times, on the impact of rapid population growth in the country, Rwanda’s minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. James Musoni, lamented the high population growth in the country that is making it hard for the government to effectively fight poverty and achieve its development programmes.
“Yes, I agree it is a major concern, it is even clearly stated in our EDPRS, (Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy) that the population must be managed so that we march with development,” he said.
Musoni pointed out several challenges in the population stabilization campaign such as increasing access to family planning services in the country.
“Our capacity to avail family planning services to the people is another challenge,” he added.
According to population experts, the surge in population growth is attributed to increasing fertility rates in the country despite efforts by the government to reduce fertility –why in 1996 by adopting a population policy.
The 2005 Rwanda Demographic Survey indicates that there has not been any progress in the reduction of total fertility rate as of yet with Rwanda’s total fertility rate at 6.1 children per woman, slightly higher than in the previous survey total fertility rate was at 5.8 in 2000.
With limited resources, high fertility depresses savings and makes it increasingly difficult for most families to adequately feed, clothe, house and educate their children.
Furthermore, in a gendered analysis frequent child bearing deprives the mother of the opportunity for gainful employment and career advancement.
The impact of population size, growth and structure will ultimately be felt in all sectors. The individual family’s reproductive behaviour largely influences the national population, in turn its productive capacity determines the nation’s wealth.
Hence the ability of people to control their family size and spacing desire is a matter of great personal and demographic importance.
The underlying factors for this high fertility are many but the unmet need for family planning stands out. Although the availability and use of effective contraception is a key to slowing population growth, total contraceptive use stood at a low 17.4 percent in 2005 (Demographic Health Survey) among women of childbearing age (15-49) married or in union.
Ministry of Health’s key statistics (2007) indicated that only 10 percent of Rwandans use modern family planning methods.
According to Demographers at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) effective use of family planning can drastically reduce the level of fertility at least from an approximate average of six births per woman at the present to three children in the future.
Researchers estimate that the lives of 150,000 women world wide could be saved each year if they access sufficient family planning.
In addition, by increasing birth intervals to at least 24 months, the deaths of one million or more children under the age of 5 could be averted. Access to family planning empowers women, reduces poverty and enhances sustainability.
Increased family planning services are needed because according to experts (UNFPA) demand will grow by an estimated 40 per cent during the next 15 years.
According to UNFPA, although an economically sound investment, family planning has unfortunately slipped down the global agenda, both as an international development strategy and as a priority.
Funding is falling, and the gap between need and available resources is widening. Yet family planning is a good investment for governments: fewer babies mean improved health status for families, lower costs of maternal/child health care, education, and higher worker productivity.
The aim of family-planning programmes must be to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, timing and spacing of their children.
There is need to readily avail couples with information to enable them make informed choices and also make available a full range of safe and effective methods.
The safest and fastest way to reduce un safe abortions and unwanted births is to assure that every sexually active woman is always protected by a contraceptive that suits her needs and health circumstances, unless and until she chooses to become pregnant.
Inesting in family planning will foster faster economic growth by reducing fertility and changing the age structure and dependency ratio of a given population. While slower population growth places less stress on the already limited resources and encourages development in the country.
Family planning and access to contraceptives is essential for the prevention of maternal deaths and to achieve universal reproductive health for all.
Proper use of family planning methods like condoms not only reduces unplanned pregnancies but also prevents transmission of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS and other related infections.
If the Millennium Development Goals are to be met, the international community will need to re-establish family planning at the top of the development agenda—and that requires both political and financial commitment. When people can plan their families, they can plan their lives. They can plan to beat poverty.