Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download


6 D+C Vol.42.2015:2 Although many countries in sub-­ Saharan Africa have made progress, their birth rates are still high. A current study by the German Insti- tute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) assesses the reasons and concludes that different circum- stances call for different interven- tions to promote family planning. SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) authors Steffen Angenendt and Silvia Popp note that, contrary to the worldwide trend, birth rates have barely decreased since the 1960s in most of sub- Saharan Africa’s 49 countries. However, there are marked differences between countries. The birth rates in the Sahel zone are hardly lower today than they were half a century ago, while in many East African countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania, fertility fell in the late 1980s, but has stayed at a fairly high level since then. The reasons are complex, as An- genendt and Popp explain. The experience of Asian and Latin American countries shows that birth rates can decline as a ­result of policies that promote socio- economic development in terms of health care, longer secondary schooling (espe- cially for girls) and access to contracep- tives for example. As some of these poli- cies have been effectively implemented in East Africa, the researchers argue that other factors hold sway. According to them, experts have so far paid too little at- tention to people’s desire to have children. What parents consider the “ideal” number of offspring is relevant. Only scant data is available on the sub- ject. The study points out that people are generally expected to want fewer children if they become more prosperous. But as Afri- can examples show, that is not always the case. The authors argue that the sustained desire to have many children partly results from governments having done nothing to curb population growth in many countries or even fostering it in some places. Even in more developed countries, however, it makes sense to reduce birth figures further. High birth rates lead to in- dividual and societal risks and may block progress, as the SWP study warns. Women who give birth to lots of children, for ex- ample, face increased health risks. More­ over, governments struggle to bring about enough educational and employment op- portunities for large numbers of young people. Lack of prospects and poverty, however, tend to fuel internal conflicts. For the purposes of development co- operation, the authors identify three types of countries: Countries with a pronounced desire to have children and a low level of socio- economic development, countries with a higher level of develop- ment and stagnating birth rates and countries with widely differing birth rates among different population groups. The SWP researchers note that coun- tries with a low level of development tend to have fragile states, so their govern- ments have little room for manoeuvre. In these places, skilled health workers are needed outside the health-care establish- ments so people in remote areas will get access to counselling and care. In countries with higher levels of de- velopment, the authors see a crucial role for the media and educational institutions in persuading people of the advantages of smaller families. The study points out that a number of governments, including those of Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Rwanda, have implemented successful campaigns. For such action to have a posi- tive impact, the authors consider the fol- lowing aspects crucial: there should be open debate on the ideal size for families, and small families should receive political recognition. The study also concludes that families need to be better informed about methods of contraception, and sex educa- tion should be introduced in schools. In countries with widely differing birth rates such as Ethiopia, the SWP research- ers see the need for locally differentiated action. It typically makes a difference, they argue, whether people live in rural or ur- ban areas. Divergence of incomes matters too. In any case, effective action will re- quire precise analysis of people’s actual needs. Sabine Balk Link: Angenendt, S., and Popp, S., 2014: Bevölkerungswachstum, Fertilität und Kinderwunsch (“Population growth, fertility and the desire for children”, only in German). Study by SWP. studien/2014_S20_adt_pop.pdf Demographic trends Differentiated action In Ethiopia, birth rates range from 1.5 to seven children per woman depending on the region: a wealthy couple’s wedding in Addis Abeba. Böthling/Photography