Why a new president may slow population growth
Democrat in the White House is likely to reverse Bush policies on global birth-control funds.
If a Democratic president enters the White House about a year from now, some experts in family planning anticipate a boon for mankind: a greater effort by the United States government to restrain world population growth.Skip to next paragraph
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As it is, when a baby born today enters kindergarten, the number of people in the world will have grown by more than 300 million. That's on top of the 6.7 billion individuals alive today. That four-year population-growth projection is comparable to the 303 million people now living in the US – the third most populous nation in the world after China and India.
The Bush administration has handed over population policies "to the far right," charges J. Joseph Speidel, a population expert at the Bixby Center for Reproductive Health Research & Policy, in San Francisco. "I hope we will have a more science-based population policy in the future rather than an ideology-based policy."
Should Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York or another Democratic candidate become president, Mr. Speidel and other enthusiasts for more family planning assistance anticipate, among other things, a quick repudiation of the Mexico City Policy, or as its opponents call it, the "global gag rule." This policy makes organizations ineligible for US family planning money if they use non-US funds to provide legal abortions, counsel or refer for abortions, or lobby for the legalization of abortion in their own countries.
The Mexico City Policy was announced by President Reagan in 1984. It was repudiated by President Clinton the day after his inauguration, and it was reinstated by President Bush on Day 1 of his administration. There's little doubt in Washington that a new Democratic president would repeal the gag rule again.
Some family-planning advocates see the current tribal conflicts in Kenya as one indication of the need for greater efforts to provide poor women with the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies and thus limit the size of their families.
When President Truman was in office, Kenya's population was 6 million. Today it is six times that and growing rapidly. Women in Kenya have on average 4.9 children today, up from 4.7 in the late 1990s, but down from the 7.5 or 8 in the 1960s.
Rapid population growth in itself is not necessarily a direct cause of conflict, says Elizabeth Leahy, a researcher at Population Action International (PAI), a Washington advocacy group. "But it can exacerbate underlying conditions of conflict."
In Kenya, the government has difficulty educating and finding jobs for hordes of young people. Some 73 percent of Kenyans are under 30. In two years, Kenya will have 70 people per square kilometer, up from 10 in 1950. Though one-fifth of Kenyans now live in urban areas, up from 6 percent in 1950, there is competition for farmland. Some of the worst tribal battles have occurred in rural areas.