Assess the Effectiveness of Anti-Natal Policies in Less Developed Countries


Globally, many Less Developed Countries(LDCs) implement anti-natal policies, the objective being to decrease crude birth rate and total fertility rate so that the population size can be brought down. Such measures are usually employed when an LDC is experiencing an unsustainably high rate of natural increase such that governments worry that the country’s carrying capacity may be exceeded. In other words, it is partly to try to improve standards of living.

Anti-natal policies range from harsh to softer methods in their range of cases. A world famous case would be the “One-child policy” of China implemented since the 1970s when they were still very much a poverty-stricken LDC and far from being the world’s 2nd largest economy. Deng Xiaoping had publicly announced that for China to reach its economic development goals by the 21st century, population size would have to be slashed to 1.2 billion. Under his ideology harsh measures like forced sterilisation and abortion were employed ruthlessly. The National Population and Family Planning Commission runs the policy and with their notorious 300,000 full-time workers and 80 million volunteers, they ensured household visits and assessments were done regularly especially in the rural villages. The policy covered about 35% of the Chinese population and contraceptives were easily available. Couples could only have one child, or in the countryside two if the first was a girl. Hefty fines of 10,000 yuan were imposed for a second and subsequent child. There were also some areas having the ‘One-child glory certificate”, entitling couples who adhered to the rule with cash bonuses, longer maternity leave, cheaper child care, preferential housing. Extra month’s salary is given until the child is 14 and discounted healthcare, cheaper fertiliser and even loans of $100,000 yuan to refurbish their houses as they wish.

Given its plethora of measures, it was expected that this policy achieved absolute success. Statistically, it has achieved the best reduction in fertility rate as from 1970 to 1979 TFR fell than more than half from 5.8 to 2.7 and subsequently preventing about 400 million births from 1979 to 2011, equivalent to the size of Europe. It was also extremely successful in urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai as it was implemented at an optimal time, when the desire to improve socio-economic conditions outweighed the desire for large families. In such urban cities, raising a child requires about 50,000 RMB for a comfortable life and many know it is not an easy decision. As a result the urban coastal cities in particular quite willingly lowered their TFR to 1.5-1.6, significantly lower than China’s national average. This led to an improvement in standards of living as carrying capacity was better able to support smaller population with existing resources. As such the trend for these cities has already been set, leading to prevalence of nuclear families and even the “little-emperor syndrome”.

That being acknowledged, many feel that this policy was a failure in intangible terms especially where morales are concerned. It is surprising that even 30 years later this barbaric experiment in social engineering is still in force. It has served to distort gender balances by contributing to female infanticide and sex-selective abortions, such that nationally, there are only 100 girls to 118 boys. In rural villages, the figure is much more worrying at 100 girls to 133 boys. It has also received widespread criticism for its complete disregard of basic human rights by forcing village women to undergo sterilization and abortions such that in some villages, up to 98% of women have had IUD implantations, often without their knowledge as they had been done when they were unconscious after forced procedures. In Bobai county in west Guangxi, officials launched a vicious crackdown and rounded up 17,000 women before subjecting them to such forced procedures, extracting 7.8 million yuan as fines, ransacking the homes of those who refused payment. Perhaps a more evident failure is the fact the policy is already causing harm to China itself as it is evidently reducing their economic comparative advantage of surplus labour and being the “factory of the world”. Labour crunches can be seen as the pearl river delta is short of 2 million workers while the Wenzhou hub is short of 1 million. Chinese wages are increasing about 4% annually and minimum wage in Guangzhou has been raised to over 1,000 yuan from a previous 860. It will be counterproductive if the policy is not controlled and ends up affecting FDI into the country.

LDCs generally are unable to implement their anti-natal policies with much success due to the inherent weaknesses in governance and national foundation that causes inability to handle various complex issues well. In Nigeria for e.g., the 1988 National Population Policy was pretty much a failure. Contraception was promoted and it has to be acknowledged, first, that perhaps the good thing was contraception and family planning services were made easily available and affordable to all, which increased contraceptive use to an impressive 50% in 5 years from a dismal 6%. Aggressive campaigns regarding eradicating discrimination against women in the workplace and at home were also conducted. However the policy was an overall failure due to its extremely fleeting success. In the long term it did not work well as more than half of Nigerians are Muslim, thus contraceptive promotion had violated religious beliefs and their rationales not understood. The policy also operated on a voluntary basis, allowing families to determine if they wanted to participate. As such many naturally chose to opt out and the final participation rate was disappointing. TFR remained relatively high at 5.70 from 2000-2005 and 5.61 from 2005-2010. Their population growth rate of 3% annually has caused them to be Africa’s fastest-growing nation, with one out of every 6 Africans being a Nigerian. This may lead to unintended consequences if the problem persists and youth dependency rises to a state that the country cannot support.

In democratic LDCs like India, their situation is quite similar to Nigeria in that being a democracy, they could not legislate the number of babies allowed per couple in their 1972 anti-natal policy. In this year abortion was legalized and contraception promoted widely, including methods like the pill and coil. Mass media was leveraged to spread announcements and posters with a globe overflowing with people and a message “limited resources, increasing population” were used in advertisements. Recently the state of Rajasthan are encouraging voluntary sterilisation by offering a car, the Indian-made Tata Nano(the world’s cheapest car) as a prize, along with motorcycles, televisions and food blenders. This will work well especially among the poorer group as these electrical appliances and household items of choice, once a luxury, are now available with sterilisation. Crude birth rate was reduced by more than half from 40.8 in 1951 to 26.4 by 1998. TFR also declined from 4.5 to 3.4 in a matter of years.

Despite the minor success, much more lies in its subtle failures. In 1978 the legal age for marriage was raised to 18 from 15 but this went largely ignored as tradition had precedence over state laws, the problem of free human choice in a democracy. Also contraception promotion was not successful with only 25% usage level despite improvements. In rural villages like Uttar Pradesh, unintended female infanticide was caused with fewer than 90 girls to 100 boys. More significantly, there were widespread complaints about many being coerced into unwilling sterilisation and abortion which led to abandonment of the campaign. With states like Uttar Pradesh adding 10 million every 3 years, India’s 1.1 billion population is expected to exceed China’s 1.3 billion by 2030, clearing showing the success of the former compared to the bleak results of the latter.

In conclusion, anti-natal policies in LDCs definitely have their own successes or failures, however in the case of an authoritative government in China, legislation takes precedence and statics will show the absolute success of the measure, though intangible morales and socio-economic aspects of life may not improve. However in most cases, we tend to see a LDC unable to handle such complexities of birth policies due to the myriad of factors needed to be considered like religious practices, acceptability and pertinence of the policy, etc. such that with other pressing priorities of alleviating poverty and achieving economic growth, LDCs generally do not have the extra capacity to deal with successful implementation.

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