The average woman in Niger now gives birth to eight children during her lifetime, more than her counterparts anywhere else in the world, according to a joint demographic study conducted by the government and the World Bank.
The study, which was published on Monday, shows that family sizes are increasing in this desperately poor West African country, while the use of modern birth control methods has decreased in recent years.
The 1998 census showed that on average women in Niger had seven children, but the new study reckons that over the past five years the number has risen to eight.
The population of this mainly desert country is rising by 3.1 percent a year and is now estimated at 11.5 million, the study said.
But it warned that unless this trend of increasing fertility is reversed, the government’s over-stretched education and healthcare systems could collapse.
“With 50 percent of the population aged less than 15 and 70 percent aged less than 25, Niger has one of the youngest age structures in the world,” the study said.
It estimated that if present trends continued, the number of children aged between six and 12 would increase by 50 percent over the next six years from 2.2 million at present to 3.3 million in 2010.
By 2020, the number of children of primary school age would more than double to between 4.5 and 5.0 million, it added.
This study said this explosion in Niger’s child population would place intolerable pressure on primary schools and under-staffed health clinics which the government could not afford to fund more generously.
It said the combination of a young population and a high birth rate were leading to a population explosion which was unsustainable if Niger wished to develop and escape its present poverty trap.
The study blamed the baby boom on poverty, early marriage and the widely held belief, encouraged by local lslamic religious leaders, that large families are intrinsically good.
It noted that those who did practise contraception, did so mainly to space out the birth of their children rather than to restrict the overall size of their family.
The study said Islam itself was not an obstacle to population control, pointing out that several Islamic states, including Iran, Egypt, Morocco and Bangladesh had managed to bring down their birth rate successfully.
The government is holding a series of seminars around the country over the next two weeks to publicise the report’s conclusions. These are aimed at making politicians, senior civil servants and journalists more aware of the dangers of uncontrolled population growth.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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