Saudi Arabia has a very high birth rate, one of the highest in the world, at 28.55 births per 1,000 people. This compares with 10.28 births in Canada, 13.82 in the US, 8.18 in Germany and Italy. China has 13.1; Kuwait, 21.81; India, 23.0; Egypt, 24.2 . [Source]

This birth rate translates to very real issues confronting the country. The first is that these newly-born children will grow up. They will place demands on society. They will require educations, health care, and critically, they will require jobs. Government coffers may help solve some of the problems, but they do not appear adequate to create the jobs that are going to be necessary.

One thing that can be done to take off some of the pressure is to reduce the birth rate. That’s the proposal in this piece from the Arabic daily Okaz, translated by Arab News here.

I’m not crazy about the writer’s suggestion that Saudi Arabia emulate China’s ‘one-child’ policy. That policy relies on strict law enforcement, criminalization of too many births, and state-forced abortions. Frankly, Saudi society would not put up with that. There are, however, ways to encourage behavior in particular directions, including financial incentives. The state can also get out of the way of people’s making their own choices about reproduction, by not making birth control more difficult to obtain.

As the writer notes, for a long time there was a social policy, if not a published government policy, of having as many children as possible, to ‘grow’ Saudi Arabia. That policy doesn’t make sense anymore. Easy access to a wide range of contraceptives is what today’s Saudi Arabia requires. It’s what tomorrow’s Saudi Arabia will depend upon.

The need for birth control
Abdullah Abu Al-Samh | Okaz

I WAS one of the first people who wrote about the necessity of birth control and the perils of population growth. I wrote this nine years ago in the daily Okaz. What I wrote then was considered a deviation and a crossing of the line. It was bitterly attacked by a number of pens and on many Internet sites. For the first time, people took note of the birth rate in the Kingdom, which was increasing by 4 percent annually, making it among the highest birth rates in the world.

Many Shariah students were upset by what I wrote. They cited a Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in which he asked Muslims to multiply “because I will be boasting of your number on doomsday.”

This was an example of quoting out of context since what was meant by “boasting” was boasting of the numbers of the best and the highest quality and not every single person. The Prophet likened the nation that is large in number but weak in strength as “flood foam,” which is what the Islamic world has been suffering from for centuries.

The increase in birth rates means problems in bringing up children and poor education. It means overcrowded classrooms, unemployment and heavily populated cities. These are some of our contemporary problems.

October:05:2009 - 08:13 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink
11 Responses to “Controlling the Saudi Birth Rate”
  1. 1
    Admin-Responder Said:
    October:05:2009 - 12:18 

    It is one of the more interesting statistics concerning the Kingdom, all too often overlooked in exchange for other less time sensitive issues. I believe the Kingdom is doing its best to invest now in major infrastructure projects to prepare for the immense burden of a population doubling within the coming years. The question is if these long term plans, which are based on present day assumptions will hold true for the future. What for example will be of the labor market in the future, or the strength of the local economy to support them? Gravity models predict simple migration to greener pastures, and markets to correct themselves. But history proves much more complicated. I for one think this a natural consequence of the tremendous growth witnessed in the Kingdom over the past twenty years, and one which will be necessary in filling the void left by its prior generation.

  2. 2
    leyla Said:
    October:05:2009 - 16:09 

    May be give birth control a chance ??

  3. 3
    Solomon2 Said:
    October:05:2009 - 23:37 

    According to my Encyclopedia Britannica World Books, the Rabat First Islamic Conference on Family Planning in 1972 ruled that save for abortion and sterilization, modern birth control techniques are not contrary to Islamic Law. But about a month after King Faisal was assassinated in 1975 birth control was banned in Saudi Arabia, then ruled illegal by the Muslim World League.

  4. 4
    M Said:
    October:06:2009 - 01:50 


    As far as I can tell only government enforced birth control (i.e. China’s one child policy) is considered forbidden by modern scholars. Personal birth control methods (other than abortion) are lawful.

  5. 5
    Aafke Said:
    October:06:2009 - 05:13 

    Admin-responder, I don’t think migration is an option, certainly not in the future, it will be not only Saudi Arabia refusing citicenship to foreigners, many countries in the west at last are finally getting enough of the endless influx of badly educated foreigners emigrating to ”greener pastures” as you call it.
    There might not be that many places to go to in future years.

    Saudi Arabia is extremely slow in recognising this problem. Especially as it has no economy to speak of, and not much future prospects; there will be a time in the near future when oil runs out, or when the rest of the world finally wakes up and starts using and inventing sustainable power sources. When that happens, and with a doubled number of inhabitants, saudi will be huge third world project.

    One of the problems which need to be adressed is the local hobby of multiple wives and impregnating as many women as possible with as many babies as possible.
    Maybe they could follow China in part, instead of a one-child policy, the government could at least instigate a one-wife policy. Followed by an law to pay a decent alimony in case of divorce and to pay for the children’s upkeep and education.

  6. 6
    Susanne Said:
    October:06:2009 - 07:42 

    I thought of Saudi Arabia recently when I heard a news story about dealing with global warming and all that “carbon footprints” stuff by offering better birth control options to developing countries. I knew KSA had a high birthrate so it automatically came to mind when I heard this story. Interesting stuff. I like Aafke’s one-wife policy instead of the one-child policy of China which has created its own problems (not enough females born for the males to have wives in future years.)

  7. 7
    Chiara Said:
    October:06:2009 - 09:56 

    Though individual countries, and different schools of fiqh have differing policies on birth control and abortion, both are allowed in Islam and in Muslim countries. Infanticide, which was a problem in pre-Islamic Arabia is not.

    All methods of birth control that are temporary are allowed except for the 10% of Muslims who believe that ensoulment occurs at conception (when the sperm hits the egg)rather than at 40 or most often 120 days. For conception as ensoulment believers, cyclical (rhythm) methods, coitus interruptus,the BCP, and barrier methods (condom, diaphram, etc) are allowed, as well as some forms of the IUD that prevent conception as well as implantation, but not those that work after conception to prevent implantation. Permanent (or hopefully permanent) methods like tubal ligation, vasectomy, or more aggressive surgery are not permitted to any Muslims except for medical reasons.

    Since medical decisions in Saudi are made by the woman’s mahrem there is an extra layer of challenge. If the husband doesn’t want the wife to have a tubal ligation it cannot be done. Umm Adam has written on this in recounting her own near fatal delivery, and the doctor’s unilateral decision during the next near fatal cesarean to do a tubal ligation(permissible because of the life-threatening nature of any future pregnancy.

    Abortion is allowed to save the life of the mother, with Islam giving preference to the mother’s life over the fetus; and depending on the Muslim country for the physical and mental health of the mother, fetal viability, cases of rape or incest, and social hardship. Saudi allows abortion when certain conditions are met for sparing the life, physical and mental health of the mother.

    Abortion being a poor form of birth control, family planning, including spacing of children, education, and availability of birth control methods would be wise. The best way to drop the birth rate is to promote women’s education to university level and open career paths/ work options to them. The more educated the female population and the more they are working, especially in careers, not McJobs, the lower the birth rate.

    As Susanne has pointed out, China’s one child policy has created other problems, and in fact there is a move in China to a 2 child policy which has alsays been in effect in some rural areas were agriculture would not have survived with a 1 child policy. The 2 child policy is being expanded on a trial basis currently.

    A one-wife policy would be ineffective as the problem is more births/ woman. More importantly, as only 2-12% of Saudis have more than one wife, and of those 90% have only 2, a one-wife policy would not make much of a dent.

    Islamic law already provides for support of ex-wives and children. Applying it is different, as it is for divorce and child maintenance everywhere, though in different ways.

    Bonus Islamic Bioethics Reproductive Health topic: Artificial insemination, IVF, and other forms of reproductive technology are permissible as long as the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg are used while the marriage is intact and both are alive (not frozen sperm used after widowhood, for example).

  8. 8
    NielsC Said:
    October:06:2009 - 15:22 

    The reason for China’s adjusting the rules is of course that the politics has helped. It has stopped the explosive growth rate and it looks like the chinese population will fall a little in the next fifty years, even if many families will have 2 children. But birth control has an ugly other side. Because of the traditions there is a big male surplus
    (as in India), and it can create some nasty troubles.
    Of course as an european I’m pro a lover birthrate, because the existing birth rate in Egypt for example surely will create big local and global problems as well.The Egypt population will double in the next 30-50 years, and there is no chance that the will be able to feed themselves.
    And the effects of the Global Warming ?

  9. 9
    Chiara Said:
    October:06:2009 - 19:35 

    NielsC “I’m pro a lover birthrate”
    hmmmm, don’t you think that would increase the population? LOL :) :P
    Sorry, we all make typos but that was too good to resist.

  10. 10
    NielsC Said:
    October:07:2009 - 13:47 

    Chiara : Got me

  11. 11
    Chiara Said:
    October:07:2009 - 14:38 

    NielsC–LOL :)

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