China begins moves away from one-child policy

July 27, 2009

SOURCE: Irish Times

Fears of an ageing population means that Chinas biggest city and financial hub, Shanghai, is now highlighting exceptions to the One Child Policy that allow couples to have two children - although only particular kinds of people can apply.



Credit: Xiao Bao

Signs of a policy change

Couples who were both only children, which includes most of the city's newly-weds, are allowed two children. Also, couples are allowed to have two if both partners have PhDs, or are disabled, or come from a rural area, or in some cases if their first child is a girl. There are also exceptions for when a widow or widower, or a divorcee, marries someone childless.

However, not enough families are taking advantage of these rules, especially in wealthy Shanghai. Family planning authorities are going on the offensive to encourage more procreation.

The localised move to reverse the One Child Policy three decades after it was imposed counts as a minor adjustment, however. The policy remains in place in most parts of the country.

The main focus of the One Child Policy has been on the countryside, where farmers traditionally liked to have large families, especially ones with lots of sons.

Middle-class Chinese in the cities, like the middle classes all over the world, have fewer children by choice.

Concerns over ageing

In 2004, Shanghai got rid of a rule that required a gap of at least four years between the births of first and second children.

"Shanghai has about three million people aged 60 or older, 21.6 per cent of the population," said Xie Lingli, head of the city's Family Planning Commission.

"We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help reduce the proportion of ageing people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future," said Mr Xie.

Under the One Child Policy, imposed in 1979 to stem population growth already running dangerously high in the world's most populous nation, most families were limited to one child.

The spectre of an ageing population hangs heavy over Shanghai, where the proportion of working adults to retirees is high and poses a major burden in the future. By 2050, China will have more than 438 million people over 60, with more than 100 million of them 80 and above.

China will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975. Government forecasters expect China's population to peak at around 1.5 billion in 2032.

PSN launches update of APPG Return of the Population Factor Report

July 15, 2009


Yesterday at the UK Houses of Commons, PSN co-hosted the launch of an update of the 2009 Return of the Population Growth Factor report of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. 

Credit: PSN


Continued relevance and urgency

The event, co-hosted by the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, PSN and Marie Stopes International, drew members of the House and the Lords, press representatives, NGO and other representatives of civil society to mark the release of the update of the 2007 report The Return of the Population Growth Factor: its Impact on the MDGs.

The update undertaken by PSN and the APPG consists of an updated summary report, and new and updated charts from the original full report. These show continued and significant under-spend on global family planning services, underlining the on-going relevance and urgency of the 2007 findings that; "the current rates of population growth will make the MDGs difficult or impossible to achieve."

The event proceedings

Christine McCafferty MP, Chair of the APPG chaired the event. Richard Ottaway MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Hearings which led to the 2007 report, and Professor Anthony Costello, Director of the UCL Global Health Institute and Chair of the recent Lancet commission on climate change and health delivered compelling key-note speeches.

Costello drew on his own experience of working with maternal and newborn health across South Asia and many parts of Africa, and spoke of the staggering benefits that quality voluntary family planning services can offer to individuals, families and communities. Additionally, he drew the audience's attention to the situation in some of the northern states of India that are experiencing very rapid population growth.

Costello painted a picture that illustrated the enormous challenges that lay ahead for administration and service delivery in States where it is likely that the population will quadruple in size by 2050.

Family planning expenditure per capita has declined by 50% since the mid-1990s, despite the rising need. Baroness Jenny Tonge, during the lively question and answer session, urged political leaders to turn their attention to this global situation since it would be possible to reverse the downward trend with the necessary political will. 

The original 2007 report

The original Report was published in 2007 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.

The report collated the findings of the series of hearings at Westminster examining the impact of population growth on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Initially proposed by PSN to the APPG, these hearings received written evidence from some 50 bodies across the world, including UNFPA, World Bank, World Health Organisation, governments and NGOs. PSN served on the Steering Group and submitted both written and oral evidence to the APPG for the original report.

The findings of the report show unequivocally that unless population growth is effectively addressed, especially in a range of poorer countries in sub Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, the MDGs will be difficult or impossible to achieve.

Further information about the launch of the original report in 2007 is available in PSN’s 2007 newsletter. 

PSN at Manchester International Festival

July 5, 2009


PSN has made a presentation on advancing voluntary family planning as part of a Guardian-sponsored event on solutions to climate change at Manchester International Festival.


Credit: UN Photo


Investing in family planning: a strategy for reducing climate change vulnerability

Back in May Manchester International Film Festival and The Guardian invited scientists, engineers, campaigners and members of the public to submit their climate-saving ideas. 

PSN was among the 20 invited to present to the public and the panel and contribute to The Manchester Report on climate change solutions in July 2009. PSN's recommendation for universal access to voluntary family planning subsequently was chosen as one of the top ten strategies for responding to climate change. 

Chairing the panel was Lord Bingham, formely Lord Chief Justice, Dan Reicher, head of energy and climate change at Google, author Chris Goodall and campaigner Briony Worthington.

Population left out in the cold?

PSN's Louise Carver delivered a presentation called Climate Change and Global Warming: Population Left Out in the Cold?, which illustrated the way in which population growth will contribute to green house gas emissions and inhibit adaptation in the world's poorest countries.

Louise also described to the panel how access to family planning in developing countries is at an all time low, while demand is simulatanously increasing and how this access to family planning will dictate whether we reach a medium or higher population pathway in 2050. 

Read the presentation

The Manchester Report

The Manchester Report was published at the end of Festival drawn from the panel's reactions and selection of the top ten solutions. 

The report will be made available to the world online but will also be printed and distributed to policymakers in advance of the critical Copenhagen summit in December. Recipients will include British MPs, American members of Congress and policymakers in India, China and other regions; business leaders, think tanks and many others.

400,000 copies of the report was also distributed to Guardian readers in a special supplement in July.

The report is available on the Guardian website.

Women's choices change cities

June 12, 2009


This year the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: for the first time in history, more than half its population will be living in urban areas. In Kenya, rapid urbanisation is creating deepening poverty among urban residents.


Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Urban growth

According to the United Nation's Population Fund  State of the World Population report published last year, poor people will make up a large part of future urban growth. Most urban growth in developing countries now stems from natural increase (more births than deaths) rather than migration from rural areas.

"But wherever it comes from, the growth of urban areas includes huge numbers of poor people. Ignoring this basic reality will make it impossible either to plan for inevitable and massive city growth or to use urban dynamics to help relieve poverty," states the report.

The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) estimates that more than half of the residents the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, are living in slums, where unemployment is high, livelihoods are unreliable, housing is poor, and basic amenities such as running water and proper sanitation are lacking.

According to Dr Alex Ezeh, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi, poor people in urban areas cannot afford formal housing, so they gravitate to slum settlements, where unsanitary conditions mean they have poorer health outcomes than people living elsewhere.

"If you look at infant mortality rates, out of every 1,000 live births in the slum areas, 91 will die before their first birthday, compared to 67 in Nairobi as a whole, and 79 in rural areas. For under-five mortality, at least 151 infants die before their fifth birthday in the slums compared to the national average of 115, 117 in rural areas, and 95 in Nairobi as a whole."

The UNFPA report, however, states that the potential benefits of urbanisation far outweigh the disadvantages: the challenge is in learning how to exploit its possibilities. It recommends that approaches should aim to reduce the major component driving urban population growth, which is natural increase. Such approaches, the report says, should aim to reduce poverty levels, promote women's rights, and better reproductive health services.

"Once policymakers and civil society understand and accept the demographic and social composition of urban growth, some basic approaches and initiatives suggest themselves.

"Advances in social development, such as promoting gender equity and equality, making education universally available and meeting reproductive health needs, are important for their own sake. But they will also enable women to avoid unwanted fertility and reduce the main factor in the growth of urban populations-natural increase," states the report.

Barriers to family planning

To Ezeh the initiative that suggests itself is family planning programmes targeted at urban poor communities: "Large proportions of poor urban women who either do not want any more children or want to delay their next birth for at least two years, are at risk of getting pregnant because they are not using any method of family planning."

Ezeh says that across sub-Saharan Africa, the urban poor are far less likely than other city dwellers to access family planning services. The factors underlying a woman's decision to use contraception are complex, and a five year study, entitled 'Educational outcomes in health and fertility', is currently under way to unravel these factors. The study, which is being conducted in Kenya, Ghana, India and Pakistan, is coordinated by the University of Cambridge with funding from the UK government's Department for International Development.

It examines the link between schooling and reproductive decisions in poor households. It focuses on questions relating to women's agency and decision making power in poor communities. Other questions it seeks to answer are whether schooling 'works' by influencing the individual or the community, and how many years of schooling are required to enable women to take more independent decisions and to access a wider range of external resources.

Fatma*, a 32-year-old resident of the Korogocho slum in Nairobi has eight children. Apart from attending a madrassa (an Islamic religious school) when she was a young girl, she has had no other form of schooling. Fatma believes that children are a gift from God and so any attempt to stop conception is a sin. This is deeply rooted in her religious beliefs.

She got married at the age of 14 and has since been bearing children after every one and a half to two years. Apart from avoiding sex on her 'unsafe days', something she was taught in madrassa, she has never used any form of modern contraception and she says she does not need it.

"Using contraceptives is killing something... but children are gifts from God," she says. "Many young girls who use contraceptives are unable to conceive when they get married, because they are now barren as they have already killed all their children."

Increasing access to contraceptive choices

This is in contrast to the attitude of Jane*, a 37-year old mother of seven also from Korogocho. Jane is unemployed and she lives with her husband, a casual worker. They only wanted to have four or five children, she says.

After delivering her fourth child, she decided to get the three-month contraceptive injection, which she had to pay for, at a nearby clinic. This method caused excessive bleeding, so she stopped it, and she got pregnant.

After their fifth child, she opted for the pill, which she bought from a local chemist. But this method too gave her severe side effects. "Whenever I took the pill, I would feel nausea, weak and would sometimes get fever," she said. She abandoned this method too.

Following this, she gave birth to their sixth and then their seventh children. Now, her last born child is six months old and Jane is yet to start using a modern contraceptive method.

Jane says she would like these services to be made more easily accessible and free of charge, especially for poor women. She would also like women to be given proper education on all the methods available and their side effects.

UNEP report highlights role of population dynamics in conflict over natural resources

June 1, 2009


The environmental dimension is one that has largely been ignored from conflict literature and policy making to date, yet a new report launched by the UN Environment Program  (UNEP) uses a series of case studies to examine the role that environmental stressors play in conflict zones around the world today.


Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Population growth and environmental stress

Environmental stress is compounded by population growth, resulting in declining resources and higher demand, and this will be a likely factor that intensifies conflict over the coming decades, the United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP) argues.

Environmental factors are rarely, if ever the sole cause of conflict, the reportFrom conflict to peacebuilding: the role of natural resources and the environment, outlines. Ethnicity, poverty, conflict in neighboring countries and low levels of international trade as critical factors. However the exploitation of natural resources and other environmental stressors can be implicated in all phases of the conflict cycle.

The onset of climate change will also serve to exacerbate resource scarcity.

“Addressing the issue of the environment in the context of conflict resolution, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, [and] peacebuilding becomes ever more important because we know from everything we have learned—and are learning every day—about climate change that one thing is for certain: The world is going to be under more stress,” says UNEP Director, Achim Steiner.

It can be difficult to the make the links between “environment” and “conflict” since it will take more than environmental issues to spark a security threat, but also because it can be seen to challenge the sovereign rights of countries that seek to use their natural resources according to their national interest. UNEP therefore should be congratulated for taking the lead in this contentious area and for arguing that a greater breadth of conflict analysis should include environmental and resource planning.

PSN's response

PSN will build on this thesis in arguing that in line with a multi sector approach addressing environmental factors, security policy makers should also consider matters of population planning.

Out of the 20 states defined as "failing" by the UN, 17 have the highest rates of population growth in the world. Knock on effects of rapid population growth, not least a very young age structure and high incidence of poverty are numerous, but there are also important environmental considerations with respect to declining land or water availability and other natural resource management.

The report is available on the UNEP website.