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.