Population policies

A number of countries, especially in Asia, have set targets for reducing the levels of fertility (the average number of children women will have in a lifetime), or for stabilising their population. Some examples from the Asia and Pacific Region, supplied by the UN Population Division, are given below. Comments on these figures are by our own editorial team,

Bangladesh aimed to reduce its fertility to replacement level of 2.1 children by 2005. (In fact, though progress is being made, in extending access to family planning, the total fertility rate in 2007 was around 3 per cent.)

China aimed to limit its population to 1.33 billion in 2005, to 1.4 bilion in 2010 and to 1.56 billion in 2020. But in November 2005, Zhang Weiqing, minister of the State Commission of Population and Family Planning, said that China's population is expected to reach 1.37 billion by 2010, and 1.46 billion by 2020. By 2033, the country's population is expected to peak at about 1.5 billion, he said.

India aims to limit its population to 1.107 billion by 2010 and to reduce its total fertility rate to the replacement level of 2.1. (In fact India's population in 2007 was already 1,135 billion, with a total fertility rate of 2.8 and a UN projected population of 1.363 billion by 2025. A recent (2007) assessment of India's population prospects has concluded that its numbers will almost certainly be near 1.8 billion by 2050 and could top 2 billion by the end of this century unless fertility rates decline more rapidly in India's largest and poorest states.)

Jordan aims to achieve a total fertility rate of 2.9 by 2010, and to lower than this by 2020. The country’s current growth rate is 3% per year and the total fertility rate - average number of children women have over the course of their reproductive lives - is 3.1.

The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) aims to reduce its total fertility rate from 4.9 in 2000 to 3.5 in 2010 and to 3.0 in 2020. The country’s current total fertility rate is 3.2, exceeding their target.

The former prime minister of Malaysia, Mohammed Mahathir, said that his country aimed to increase its population from 25 million to 70 million. (However, this conflicts with other statements and the current policy is unclear.)

Nepal aims to reduce fertility to replacement level by 2017. Currently, the country’s total fertility rate remains high at 3.3 children per woman and 38 per cent of the total population is under the age of 15.

Pakistan aimed to reduce its rate of population growth to 1.9 per cent by 2004. (The country missed this target, but managed to bring down its growth rate by 2007 to 1.8 per cent per year). Nevertheless, the total fertility rate remains high at 3.5 children per woman and over one third of the total population is below the age of 15.

Sri Lanka aims to achieve a stable population by mid-century. (The country is on track to meet this target, since its current total fertility rate is just 1.87, just below replacement level at 2.1)

Vietnam aimed to reach replacement level fertility of 2.1 by 2005 nationwide, and in remote and poor areas by 2010. (The country has essentially met this target, with a 2007 total fertility rate of 2.15).

Nigeria launched a new population policy in January 2004. This aims to improve the standard of life for all Nigerians by ensuring that the population growth rate of Nigeria by 2015 is not more than 2 per cent. It also aims to ensure an increase in the rate of modern contraceptive prevalence and to reduce the infant and maternal mortality rates which are currently very high (109 per 1,000 live births and 800 per 100,000 live births, respectively).

Iran's success story

Iran is considered a family planning policy success story. The country’s dramatic decline in fertility from an average of 7 lifetime births per woman in 1986 to 2.1 in 2005 has been termed Iran’s “other revolution”. Many of the strategies put in place two decades ago to address the country’s bulging population – a strong network of rural health centres, mandatory pre-marital counselling on family planning methods and free family planning services and contraceptives – are still contributing to the general wellbeing of Iranian families and promoting the health of mothers and children.

However, it is vital that reproductive health services continue to expand to meet current and future needs. With half the country’s population under the age of 20, the economic, political and reproductive behaviour of the baby boom generation of the 1980s (a result of the Iran-Iraq War) will be a powerful force shaping Iran’s future.