Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Going the distance with family planning in Indonesia

By Jenna Dodson

Indonesia, home to 264 million people, is the world’s fourth-most populous nation. Its capital, Jakarta, is the second-most populous urban area on Earth. For the sake of its long-term economic and social health, ending population growth should be a priority.

As Indonesian President Joko Widodo acknowledged in 2016: “Family planning is key for the success of future generations.”

Not just in Indonesia.

Lower population growth translates into higher per capita GDP, leading to higher incomes, savings and investment. By contrast, high population growth can reinforce an intergenerational cycle of poverty, with young people in large families often lacking access to the skills, tools and opportunities they need to improve their future.

In 1970, the Indonesian National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) was launched to address the problem. It had two specific goals: to establish a “small, prosperous family” as the norm in Indonesia and to reduce fertility through the promotion of contraceptives.

At first, the BKKBN’s family-planning efforts achieved extraordinary results. By 2000, after 30 years of focused action, total fertility dropped by 54 percent, from 5.6 births per woman to 2.6, making Indonesia’s family-planning program one of the most effective in history, but progress stalled before Indonesia achieved its objective of achieving replacement-level fertility (2.1) by 2010 to 2015.

According to the UN, Indonesia’s total fertility rate in 2015 was 2.45.

The BKKBN is now targeting replacement-level fertility by 2025. This is feasible and could enable Indonesia to achieve its second key quantitative target — stabilizing population growth by 2050 — on schedule, but that means identifying the major barriers to success and designing a strategy to overcome them, using past successes as a guide.

One such barrier is erected by regional governments, most of which still do not regard family planning as a priority. The central government’s efforts to reduce fertility to replacement level would have little impact without the committed engagement of Indonesia’s 511 autonomous regions.

While efforts are already underway to increase awareness of family planning’s paramount importance and move it higher on sub-national authorities’ agenda, that is just the first step. Governments at all levels must also collaborate more effectively with local communities. In fact, widespread outreach and community participation at the village level was a key reason for the success of past family-planning efforts in Indonesia.

At its peak, Indonesia’s rural family-planning program included nearly 40,000 field workers and more than 100,000 volunteers, serving even the most remote communities. These personnel conducted home visits to discuss family-planning methods, provided counseling and made referrals to community health centers.

Widodo has attempted to revitalize this outreach effort by investing in Kampung KB, a program intended to improve village communities’ welfare and quality of life by expanding access to long-acting contraceptives, providing free services and offering peer education programs.

As part of this initiative, intra-uterine devices, condoms, and implants are now offered free of charge to all couples that need them, but such initiatives have run up against another major barrier to progress: the stigma against women — particularly unmarried women — who seek family-planning services.

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