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Indonesia’s Population Explosion: no longer an issue

An Effective Family Planning  Scheme Has Done Its Job

Aris  Ananta

For  ASIA  SENTINEL,  8  July 2011

A 40-year-old West Java villager who goes by the single name Deni has
only two children, a considerable change from his own parents. He has
seven siblings. He thus illustrates the change that has taken place
over the last four decades in Indonesia as the country’s family
planning program and changing cultural mores have caused birth rates
to fall dramatically.

As World Population Day approaches on July 11, Indonesia’s
extraordinary success in cutting its population growth is a lesson for
a world whose total numbers are on course to soar to as high as 9.5
billion by 2050. The key to Indonesia’s success has been its National
Family Planning Coordination Board, known by its Indonesian initials
BKKBN, which worked together with the United States Agency for
International Development to produce the results.

The program got underway in the 1970s under the late strongman Suharto
who, whatever his shortcomings, recognized that a population explosion
could wreck his country. Suharto allowed his planners to put together
a strong and effective family planning organization. Today the program
is recognized internationally for its success in lowering average
family size, increasing contraceptive use and improving the health of
women and children.

As one of eight siblings, it is obvious that Deni parents were unaware
of family planning or even the fact that families could regulate the
number of children they could have. Even if they knew it, it was
difficult and expensive to find contraceptives.

Deni’s experience is thus strikingly different from that of from his
parents. He and his millions of fellow Indonesians live in a time when
people are not only aware that they can regulate their family size but
they have relatively easy access to modern contraceptives; when there
are many other aspirations than simply having large numbers of
children; and when people realize that they can raise their standard
of living by having fewer children rather than more.

Indonesia today is very different from the Indonesia of the 1960s and
even the 1990s. The country’s total fertility rate, the rate arrived
at by calculating the number of births per woman of childbearing age,
has fallen from its 1967 peak of 5.6 births per woman to 2.28 today,
just around the replacement rate of 2.2 births per woman. (Although
globally the replacement rate is 2.1 births, Indonesia’s level is
slightly higher because of higher mortality rates.)

Nonetheless, because of those vast numbers of births in the previous
four decades, and because of dramatically increasing life expectancy,
Indonesia’s population has soared from 97.1 million in 1961 to 237.6
million in 2010. In 1960, the average Indonesian could expect to live
about 38.0 years. By 2005, that had risen to about 69.0 years, an
astonishing 31.0 -year increase as health care and better nutrition
took effect.

The country has experienced a relatively fast demographic transition
during the last four decades. The initial high fertility rate meant
the population was projected to grow very quickly, with lots of young
children who were still dependent on the adult population, making it
difficult for Indonesian families to save and invest. The quality of
health for children would be damaged by malnutrition and other
problems, in turn affecting the quality of the labor force and
restricting economic growth.

Faced with this gloomy scenario, the government successfully
engineered individual behavior so that families saw a large number of
children as a burden rather than an asset. The government campaigned
on the concept of a two-child family as a happy family. In the 1960s,
Indonesians accepted whatever number of children they were going to
have, with women producing babies as long as they were in their
reproductive ages. But, nowadays, they can make choices on how many
children they want — or they can decide not to have any children at
all.

Therefore, the current challenge is providing “quality contraception,”
giving families all available information about contraceptives,
including the side effects. The contraceptives should also be easily
accessible and affordable.

The issue is no longer to lower fertility, because fertility is
already low. Indonesia’s fertility is already around replacement
level. If fertility continues to go down, and goes much below
replacement level, Indonesia will experience a shortage of labour like
what some countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Japan are
facing now. These countries need to bring foreigners to fill in the
shortage of labour and this “import” of foreigners has resulted in
social and political tensions in these countries.

It is true that the number of Indonesian population will keep growing
though fertility rate is already low. By 2025, Indonesia may have an
additionaal 40 million population compared to that in 2010. It is also
true to say that the rising number of population may burden
development in Indonesia. Nevertheless, this is not population
explosion. This is demographic momentum, an echo of the past high
fertility. With the continuing low fertility, this demographic
momentum will disappear.

Coupled with the liberalization of the economy, a rising number of
foreigners will come to Indonesia, particularly after 2030. A slowing
of the fertility decline may postpone the start of the heavy inflow of
foreigners looking for work.

The challenge is then how to utilize the still rising numbers. China
and India have been seen as rising global economies because of their
large numbers, coupled with rising prosperity. Forty years ago, given
poor economic development and planning, China’s large population was
regarded as a liability. Now it is an asset. Can Indonesia do the
same?

Indonesia’s policy makers should not worry overmuch about further
reducing fertility. Rather, the country should delay the start of a
shortage of young workers projected for about 2030. If possible, it
could avoid it by keeping fertility around replacement, as it is now.
At the same time, Indonesia should be able to make its rising
population an asset in its bid to join the rising world economic
powers. Concentrating on quality contraception and transformation of
its growing population into an asset is the challenge. Population
explosion is no longer an issue.(*)

Related Articles

*  Laju Pertumbuhan Penduduk Menurun

Over population is a myth

A Return of the Feared Population Explosion?

Is Jakarta’s Population Growing Too Fast?

Menurunkan Angka Kelahiran?

Filed under: Demography, economy, English, , , , , , , ,

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