Kenya pushes to reduce high birthrate

Kenya - the country with the world's highest birthrate - is shifting its family-planning program into high gear.

If its birthrate (4 percent a year) isn't slowed, the nation's population will more than double by the year 2000. Already, 50 percent of Kenyans are under age 15, and the government is straining to provide adequate education, health services, and food for its 17 million inhabitants.

Population control here will not be easy. In rural areas, children are seen as a measure of wealth and an investment for old age. Some previous population control efforts have failed and some Kenyans have come to believe that population control is a plot by industrial nations to reduce the influence of third-world countries.

The average Kenyan family has eight children. The family planning drive will spread the message that ''we must bring the size of families down to about three children,'' says Dr. J.K. Kigondu, director of the National Family Welfare Center.

The drive, to be coordinated by the new National Population Council, includes person-to-person counseling, public meetings, mass media coverage, and village debates.

Dr. Kigondu says an intensive campaign can bring about a real change in 20 years. Parents, he says, eventually will realize that it is too costly to rear large families. Young people still in school will be told of the merits of contraception and family planning. Dr. Kigondu say sex education should be a regular part of school curricula beginning in the last year of primary school.

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