Over-population, could restrictions on family size be the answer?

April 27, 2013 6:00 pm

With the world’s population set to reach a staggering 9 billion by 2050 and with resources already so stretched in many countries, could a form of child-birth restriction program be the long-term solution to an over-population crisis?

Any talk of regulation when it comes to the amount of children a person can have is a highly controversial and emotive subject, rarely discussed in public as a viable option to what is becoming a serious problem. Over-population will, in one way or another, affect every single person on the planet.  The scale of the problem is colossal and will impact on a local, national and international level. Many aspects of our day-to-day lives are dictated by the size of the population in terms of the allocation of local services and funding. The larger the population the more increased strain there is on said services and resources such as food, water and land become more and more scant.


Many aspects of our day-to-day lives are dictated by the size of the population in terms of the allocation of local services and funding.

Europe might be more insulated from this concern than many of the “third world countries” however could regulation on the size of families one day be implemented on this continent, would it help the situation and most importantly, would the people stand for it? China is the only state sponsored proponent of such a policy and has been since 1979 as a “temporary” response to the bulging population, the fertility rate was 5.91 in the 1960s and 2.91 by 1978, just before the policy was introduced. By most accounts this has been successful in its immediate aim, with zero population growth expected by 2025 and an actual decrease by 2050. The current fertility rate is 1.55.

In order to enforce the one child per family policy there are number of monetary and social rewards aimed at those that obey – higher wages, improved education/schooling and employment opportunities. For those that don’t however, strict punishments such as employment termination and financial penalties in the guise of fines as well as difficulty in obtaining state assistance.

Rwanda is the only African nation to consider a similar move and in 2007 there were plans to restrict family size to three children per couple which would effectively half the fertility rate. This was designed to bring the birth rate more in line with the economic growth of the country however it was faced with some resistance due to the devastation caused by the genocide to so many families and because of a conflict with religious beliefs.

There is both anecdotal and now, scientific evidence to suggest that there are various social problems in China as a direct result of having practically an entire generation of “only children”. There is evidence to suggest that only children, in general, are “less trusting, more risk-averse and more pessimistic” than other children born before the policy was put into place, most likely having at least one brother or sister. This report however was borne from research carried out by the Monash University in Australia from a pool of just 421 people. The small test group is a source of criticism from some quarters.

There are also countless horror stories of forced terminations inflicted on woman who already have a child and don’t qualify for a second (Some families are permitted more than one in certain circumstances). It was only in 2002 that this practice was banned however some believe that it still happens at local level.

There is a well-known disparity between male and female births, 117 males born to every 100  females, although there is a cultural preference for males in some parts of Asia, this issue has been compounded by the one child policy and there are instances of terminations carried out based purely on the sex of the unborn. Not only is this abhorrent, it in turn causes its own problems socially with men unable to find a wife and it’s also known for males to go abroad in search of a partner.


1 billion people go hungry every day and 25,000 people die as a result of hunger related diseases and malnutrition on a daily basis

Of course there are many who would consider such a plan, in any country to be wholly unethical and against the common notion that most people can have as many children as they see fit and in some circumstances, regardless of financial capabilities. There are however many potential advantages as well. A declining birth-rate and eventual reduction in the population could have various benefits in the long-term. There are many issues we are facing worldwide, which in part, can be attributed to overcrowding. 1 billion people go hungry every day and 25,000 people die as a result of hunger related diseases and malnutrition on a daily basis. A gradual and sustained reduction in the overall population would put less pressure on a food chain which is already cutting corners to meet demand, as shown by the recent horse meat scandal.

Overcrowding, besides putting a strain on our basic resources such as food and water, also has a detrimental effect on schooling – we already have many cases of school rooms packed to the rafters which has a negative effect on the general education of our children. Housing again is currently in short supply with several generations having to share the same house – this has of course been amplified by the current economic climate but an increase in need would only make this worse.

There are some that would ague, through a combination of advances in technology and science, human ingenuity will always come out on top, that we have always pushed pass any boundaries previously set. However, do we want to be dependent on advances in technology, to facilitate such population growth, which might not even materialise? Do we want future generations living on artificial, lab-grown “meat”? Where would that road end?

We have a responsibility to leave the planet in better shape than we found it for future generations. This can be achieved from an environmental, economic and social standpoint all of which are inter-linked and the population level underpins them all.

The fundamental question is simple, is having a child a privilege or a human right? If it is a privilege than perhaps a restriction on the number of children allowed per family, subject to how low the cap is set, would be acceptable given time. But if it’s considered a human right, what democratic government would be bold enough to inflict such a measure on its people and what does the future hold if not?

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