Muffling the Population Explosion

Governments have enacted several social engineering experiments in an effort to control their populations: India tried to reduce the national birthrate by giving men money and radios if they would have vasectomies, and later required the operation in certain communities that had not met birth rate goals; in 1979, China initiated a one-child-per-couple rule, which has helped lower the birthrate but also has resulted in increased rates of child abandonment, abortions, and infanticide. Some people have proposed that women be born with the "right" to have two babies, and "baby rights" could be bought and sold like shares on the open market, or that women could be paid not to have children. Others have attacked the problem of population from the other end of the age structure, suggesting that a "right to die" movement be encouraged for the aging and terminally ill.

Such coercive and controlling plans have lost ground to approaches advocating more education and reproductive freedom. In 1994, a UN-sponsored International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, solidified the feeling that coercive policies to control populations were less effective and humane than allowing people to have access to better choices. The ICPD emphasized several points:

SCouples and individuals should have the right to decide the number and spacing of their children, but have access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning.

Measuring the progress made since the ICPD is difficult, since of the $5 billion pledged annually by the attendees, only $2 billion has been committed, and the politics of abortion have intervened. Nonetheless, in most regions of the world, both ideas and realities are changing in support of sexual and reproductive health.


Hardin, Garrett. 1993. Living Within Limits. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kluger, Jeffrey. 2000. "The Big Crunch," Time, April-May, pp. 45-47.

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