Family planning could bring more benefit to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.”


What is currently missing is political willingness to incorporate family planning into the development arena.”

  • Cleland et al. 2006

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Quick facts:

  • Family planning’ refers to any combination of culturally appropriate measures which help women and couples to responsibly determine the timing, spacing and number of their children, and in particular allow them to avoid pregnancy when pregnancy is not intended.
  • Family planning does not include coercive ‘population control’ measures. Programs like China’s ‘one child policy’ and the forced sterilisations that occurred in India in the mid-1970s have proven both unnecessary and ineffective, as well as being morally abhorrent. (China’s fertility fell in the decade before the ‘one child policy’, due to a popular, voluntary family planning program.)
  • In the post-WWII era, no country has moved from ‘developing’ to ‘middle income’ or ‘industrial’ status without first reducing fertility.
  • Educating girls helps to reduce fertility, and is a very good thing in its own right, but those who say “the best way to address population growth is greater education of girls” are not correct. Girls’ education has been neither necessary (many countries have reduced fertility without it) nor sufficient (several countries have maintained high fertility despite school completion by most girls). On the other hand, family planning programs have boosted girls’ education, since use of contraception (by either an adolescent girl or her mother) helps girls to attend and complete school, and to aspire to a career beyond school.
  • Many people say that countries will reduce fertility when poverty is reduced: “Development is the best contraception.” History does not support this theory. Countries which reduced fertility through family planning programs did it while still poor, and achieved a great acceleration in economic development after fertility fell to near replacement level. Only very resource-rich countries (mainly the Middle East oil states) managed to increase wealth while population growth was high, and this did not automatically lead to lower fertility.
  • Family planning programs were strongly supported by international community through the 1970s and 1980s. This support fell away in the mid-1990s. The result is that fertility decline stalled or reversed in many developing countries. Developed countries also started promoting more births, in response to an unfounded fear of demographic ageing. These trends led to a global stall in fertility, around 2.5 children per woman, and a resurgence of global population growth.
  • While family planning should always be voluntary, it is not enough just to ensure access to contraception. Most women who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception do have access, but choose not to use it. Many have misconceived fears of side effects, or religious objections, or are forbidden by their husbands. Many still want large families because it gives them status. Good family planning programs can raise awareness of the benefits of small families for the parents and their children. They can also challenge bad traditions which limit women’s autonomy, such as early marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), or women’s inability to own land or borrow money. There are many ways of promoting cultural and attitudinal changes to family size and women’s roles in society, and all fall under the scope of family planning programs.
  • Family planning is very good value for money. Each dollar spent on family planning is estimated to save between $2 and $6 on other development interventions. Beyond these direct impacts, lower fertility greatly boosts general economic development.
  • Legal, safe abortion has been an important component of family planning in many countries. Good access to, and awareness of, contraception methods reduces prevalence of abortion. Making abortion illegal does not. On the contrary, those countries in which abortion is illegal tend to have more abortions – and far more bad outcomes from illicit, unsafe abortions.
  • Global population growth is exceeding the UN’s projections due to lack of family planning programs. Every two years, the UN revises its projections and each year since 2002 the projections have been revised upward. Until support for family planning is renewed in the remaining high-fertility countries, further upward revisions are likely. Each increases the likelihood of suffering through wars, famine or epidemics.
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