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Population day poses questions

Population day poses questions

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.

Government

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

control policy.

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

celebration.

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

neighbors.

"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

policy."

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

statistics.

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.

"They

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,"

Fauveau says.

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

children soon."

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