David R. Francis

Nations export people. Here's why they shouldn't.

The US and other rich countries fund "death control" in many developing nations - efforts to reduce mortality from disease. It's time for them to fund birth control.

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    Passengers hang off a local train passing Jahanabad in the northern Indian state of Bihar. The World Bank estimates India's population will reach 1.39 billion in 2025. When some developing countries can't create enough jobs for rapidly growing populations, they export people. Stepped-up birth control advocacy could improve education and reduce poverty.
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When some developing nations can't create enough new jobs for rapidly growing populations, they export people. Younger workers in places like Haiti, Mexico, the Philippines, and Morocco head for better-off countries.

People-exporting pays. It earns valuable foreign remittances for poor nations. It trims unemployment. It can diminish the risks of civil unrest, says Joseph Chamie, of the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

Sometimes the expatriates gain clout in receiving nations, such as Hispanics in the United States or Turks in Germany, as they get citizenship.

Most rich nations have the opposite problem: Fertility rates have dropped below the rate of reproduction. Only a high rate of immigration has kept the US from following the same path. But on both sides of the Atlantic, immigration, especially if illegal, has created an underclass and an anti-immigrant backlash among citizens.

Is this any way to manage a world population headed for 7 billion in two years and 8 billion in two decades? For example: Women in Haiti each have an average of 3.5 children. That exacerbates Haiti's poverty (average annual income of $660) and crowds the island's 9.8 million people (it's already the world's 30th most densely packed nation, just ahead of India). The Haitian economy doesn't provide jobs for all of the country's young people.

Likewise, the Philippines' population has swelled 10-fold since 1900 and the country is only a little less crowded than Haiti. The nation has exported millions of workers throughout East Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, sending home $24 billion in 2008 – 14 percent of gross domestic product. Mexico's fertility rate, by contrast, is down to 2.2 children per female, from 5.5 in the 1970s.

These three countries are primarily Roman Catholic. The church opposes artificial contraception as interfering with the creation of life. So it was news in those countries early this month when the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, told the BBC that he understands why such contraception is seen as "attractive" in tackling third-world poverty. But it is not the role of the church to add to the voice of those championing the use of condoms, he said.

Clearly, many Mexicans already ignore the church's doctrine on birth control.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates 215 million women in the world want to avoid pregnancy but are not using effective contraception. One result is that 20 million have unsafe abortions each year.

Under President Obama, the US has stepped up its foreign aid for family planning and reproductive health. His budget proposal for fiscal year 2011 calls for $715.7 million in bilateral and multilateral such aid. That is up 10 percent from the amount Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2010, notes Population Action International in Washington, and the largest amount ever sought.

The US "is back as an international leader" on these issues, notes the think tank.

In many developing nations, the US and other rich countries fund "death control" – efforts to reduce mortality from such diseases as HIV-AIDS and malaria, notes Mr. Chamie. Now they should fund sophisticated campaigns for birth control that point out that smaller families can enhance education, reduce poverty, and add to happiness.

David R. Francis writes a weekly column.

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