WORLD Population day was celebrated for the first time in two decades on July 11
with the Minister of Health Chea Thang formally launching an official birth
spacing program, which will be included among the health services offered in
Mother and Child Health (MCH) centers across the country.
health workers will be encouraging women to take longer gaps between bearing
children though they will not be advising against having less children.
Though birth spacing and contraception have been promoted by NGOs for
several years, this marks the first official step towards a national population
The country's population is now estimated at close to 10
million, and if the present 2.5 percent growth rate continues, it is expected to
double to 20 million in less than 30 years. "Though the population density is
still relatively low, the question is whether the country has the capacity to
feed, educate and care for its people," Minister of Planning Chea Chanto told
officials from five ministries and local and international NGOs at the
Despite these warning signals, a comprehensive national
population policy is way down the present government's agenda, especially since
it is the subject of controversy. NGOs working in the field say that several
people within the government want to continue an unwritten policy of increasing
the population to match that of the country's more populous
"Many of them feel that Thailand and Vietnam, with their large
populations, will always be a threat unless Cambodia also increases its
population to at least 20 million," says Vincent Fauveau, country director of
the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which has begun operating in the
country in the last two months. "But there are others who want a family planning
Chea Chanto says the government only has "a policy to promote
birth spacing and maternal health", and not of formal population control.
Officials with local NGOs expect it will be at least a year before a
comprehensive policy is drawn up.
One of the biggest problems for
demographers has been the lack of nationwide population
Fauveau points out that there are several population problems
peculiar to Cambodia, especially the fact that civil war has left an adult
population which is nearly 60 percent female, with 21 percent of all households
being headed by women.
Several thousand are returnees from border camps
who have spent years without doing traditional farming activities.
can't be given pieces of land and spread out across the country. They tend to
come to Phnom Penh, and there is no policy to try to limit urban population,"
Also, nearly 44 percent of the population is under 15 years of
age. There could be a huge increase in population in a few years, he warns.
Faveau said: "The future of Cambodia's population will be determined by the
thousands of girls now between eight and 14 years, who will start having