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Assess the Effectiveness of Anti-Natal Policies in Less Developed Countries
Globally, many least developed countries (LDCs) are implementing anti-natal policies, which aim to reduce the birth rate and the total fertility rate so that the population can be reduced. Such measures are usually applied when an LDC has 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 an attempt to improve living standards.
Antinatal policies vary from harsh to softer methods in their range of cases. A world famous case would be China’s “one child policy” implemented since the 1970s when it was still a poor LDC and far from being the world’s 2nd largest economy. Deng Xiaoping publicly announced that in order to achieve its economic development goals by the 21st century, China would have to reduce its population to 1.2 billion. Under his ideology, harsh measures such as forced sterilization and abortion were ruthlessly applied. The National Commission for Population and Family Planning leads the policy and with its notorious 300,000 full-time workers and 80 million volunteers, they ensure regular household visits and assessments, especially in rural villages. The policy covered about 35% of the Chinese population and contraceptives were readily available. Couples could have only one child, and in the countryside two if the first child was a girl. Heavy fines of 10,000 yuan were imposed for the second and subsequent children. There were also some areas that had a ‘one-child certificate’, which gave couples who followed the rules cash bonuses, longer maternity leave, cheaper childcare, preferential accommodation. An additional monthly salary was given until the child turned 14 and discounted health care, cheaper fertilizer and even 100,000 yuan loans to renovate their houses as they wish.
Given the multitude of measures, it is expected that this policy has achieved absolute success. Statistically speaking, it achieved the best reduction in fertility rates as from 1970 to 1979 the TFR more than halved from 5.8 to 2.7 and then prevented about 400 million births from 1979 to 2011, the size of Europe. It was also extremely successful in urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai because it was implemented at an optimal time, when the desire to improve socioeconomic conditions overrode the desire for large families. In such urban cities, raising a child requires around 50,000 RMB to live comfortably and many know that this is not an easy decision. As a result, urban coastal cities in particular willingly reduced their TFR to 1.5-1.6, significantly lower than China’s national average. This led to an improvement in living standards as the carrying capacity was better able to support a smaller population with existing resources. As such, the trend for these cities has already been set, leading to the prevalence of nuclear families and even the “little emperor syndrome”.
That being said, many feel that this policy has been a failure in an intangible sense, especially when it comes to morale. It’s amazing that 30 years later this barbaric experiment in social engineering is still going strong. It has served to distort the gender balance by contributing to female infanticide and sex-selective abortions, so that nationally there are only 100 girls to 118 boys. In rural villages, the figure is much more worrying than 100 girls to 133 boys. It also received widespread criticism for its complete disregard for basic human rights by forcing village women to undergo sterilization and abortions, so that in some villages up to 98% of women had IUDs implanted, often without their knowledge as it was done before they were unconscious after forced interventions. In Bobai County in western Guangxi, officials launched a crackdown and detained 17,000 women before subjecting them to such coercion, extracting 7.8 million yuan in fines, and raiding the homes of those who refused to pay. Perhaps a more obvious failure is the fact that the policy is already harming China itself as it clearly reduces their economic comparative advantage of surplus labor and being the “factory of the world”. The skewed labor force can be seen as the Pearl River Delta lacks 2 million workers, while the center of Wenzhou lacks 1 million. Chinese wages are growing at about 4% per year, and the minimum wage in Guangzhou has been raised to over 1,000 yuan from the previous 860. It will be counterproductive if the policy is not controlled and eventually affect FDI into the country.
LDCs are generally unable to implement their antinatal policies with great success because of inherent weaknesses in governance and national foundations that make it impossible to deal well with various complex issues. In Nigeria, for example, the National Population Policy of 1988 was quite a failure. Contraception was promoted and it must be admitted, first, that perhaps it was a good thing that contraceptive and family planning services became readily available and affordable to all, increasing contraceptive use to an impressive 50% in 5 years from a paltry 6%. Aggressive campaigns to eradicate discrimination against women in the workplace and at home were also carried out. However, the policy was an overall failure due to its extremely fleeting success. In the long run, this did not work well because more than half of Nigerians are Muslim, therefore the promotion of contraception violated religious beliefs and their justifications were not understood. The policy also operated on a voluntary basis, allowing families to decide whether they wanted to participate. As such, many naturally opted out and the final participation rate was disappointing. The TFR remained relatively high at 5.70 from 2000 to 2005 and 5.61 from 2005 to 2010. Their population growth rate of 3% per year has made them the fastest growing nation in Africa, with one in six Africans being Nigerians. This can lead to unintended consequences if the problem persists and youth addiction grows to a state that the state cannot handle.
In democratic LDCs like India, their situation is quite similar to Nigeria because being a democracy, they could not legislate the number of babies allowed per couple in their 1972 anti-birth policy. This year, abortion was legalized and contraception was widely promoted, including methods such as the pill and the IUD. Mass media were used to spread announcements, and advertisements used posters with a globe full of people and the message “limited resources, increasing population”. Recently, the state of Rajasthan is encouraging voluntary sterilization by offering a car, the Indian-made Tata Nano (the cheapest car in the world) as a prize, along with motorcycles, televisions and food mixers. This will work well, especially among the poorer group as these electrical appliances and household items, which were once luxuries, are now available with sterilization. The total birth rate fell by more than half from 40.8 in 1951 to 26.4 by 1998. The TFR also fell from 4.5 to 3.4 in a few years.
Despite his minor success, much more lies in his subtle failures. In 1978 the legal age of marriage was raised to 18 from 15, but this was largely ignored as tradition took precedence over state laws, a problem of free human choice in a democracy. Contraceptive promotion has also been unsuccessful with only a 25% use level despite improvements. In rural villages like Uttar Pradesh, unintentional female infanticide is caused by less than 90 girls for every 100 boys. More significantly, there were widespread complaints that many were forced into sterilizations and abortions they did not want, leading to the campaign being abandoned. With states like Uttar Pradesh adding 10 million every 3 years, India’s population of 1.1 billion is expected to exceed China’s 1.3 billion by 2030, clearly showing the success of the former compared to the dismal performance of the latter.
In conclusion, antinatal policies in LDCs definitely have their successes or failures, however in the case of an authoritarian government in China, legislation takes precedence and statistics will show the absolute success of the measure, although the intangible moral and socio-economic aspects of life may not improve. However, in most cases, we tend to see that LDC cannot deal with such complexities of birth policies due to the multitude of factors to be considered such as religious practices, policy acceptability and relevance, etc., so that with other pressing priorities of poverty alleviation and achieving economic growth, LDCs generally lack additional capacity for successful implementation.
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