3 February 2000

Zambia: High Fertility Contributes To Zambia's High Population

Lusaka, Zambia (PANA) — Over the past 10 years, the average growth rate of Zambia's population has remained constantly at 3.1 percent per annum, one of the biggest growth rates in the world.

Population experts attributed the factors behind the high growth rate in the country to high levels of fertility.

Zambia is said to be one of countries with the highest crude birth rates, estimated at 42.5 live births per 1,000 people during the 1995 to 2000 period.

This places the country at number 19 out of the first 40 countries in the world with highest crude births rates.

In 1996, Zambia's total fertility rate was estimated to have been at 6.1, down from 6.5 in 1992. The country is also said to have a very young population by world standards.

In the 1990 population census, 50 percent of the population was under 15 years.

However, because of a number of factors, including the debilitating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as other illness, analysts expect the growth rate to drastically fall in the near future.

The Central Statistical Office director, David Diangamo, announced recently that the census of the country's population and housing will take place in August to gauge the impact of population on poverty and other social exclusions.

Deputy finance and economic development minister, Godfrey Simasiku, said that population control was critical for the country's economic recovery.

He noted that Zambia's population had in the last one year reduced from 3.7 percent to 3.1 percent.

"This country's economy had since four years ago been experiencing negative growth rates from 6.5 percent in 1996 to 3.5 in 1997 and 2.2 percent last year," Simasiku said.

He attributed the negative growth in the economy to the population growth rate which he said had outstripped the country's limited resources.

He expressed fear that if Zambia "did not deal with the rapid population growth, poverty will not be reduced and development will not be sustainable."

It is not possible using existing information to determine the preferred family size in Zambia.

"However, it is quite clear that large families, average of six children, are preferred among poor people in rural and peri-urban areas while the modern to rich people have increasingly come to prefer small families of two to three children," according to the Central Statistical Office report.

Statisticians also observe that there are more young people in urban than in rural areas.

The report revealed that by age 18, half the number of women in the country will either have been pregnant or will have their first child.

For advocates of smaller families, the main reasons behind their decisions include social-economic, while for the poor, it is the importance they still seem to attach to male children that they will not give up having children until the family has a baby boy.

Statistics in the country show that a high percent of the population has no access to "family planning information."

This, according to social experts, is one of the leading factors causing an upsurge in population.

Gwendoline Bwalya, 29, of Lusaka's sprawling Kalingalinga compound, said she has six children because her husband wanted "at least five children" before she could seek "contraception methods."

"We were told that it was risky to have only two children in case one or both died. To guard against this perceived danger, we have six children. We are struggling to feed them because the economy is bad, even for those with no children," she added.

Traditional counsellor Mweshi Kang'ombe of Lusaka said in most African settings, men seek to prove their "manhood" by "siring" many children.

He pointed out that they feel they would be looked down upon as "lesser being" if they do not produce as many children as possible.

"There are cultural prejudices to the extent that manhood subsists in how many children a man fathers but that's wrong. Men should prove their worth by their ability to manage their families," Kang'ombe explained.

Research findings by the Zambia's Demographic Health Survey reveal that few women use modern methods of contraception because they consider them "alien."

According to the survey, an estimated 50 percent of women who use contraception prefer using the pill.

The survey also shows that 74 percent of married women do not use any contraceptives at all.

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