Thu, Jan 31, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Nigerians embrace family planning before baby boom


Young girls listen to a talk about puberty at the 9ja Girls Centre in Bada, Nigeria, on Nov. 11 last year.

Photo: AFP

Modupe Adegbite’s grandfather had 22 children, while her father had nine. At the age of just 19, she has decided that she wants no more than four.

“Why do you have so many children if you cannot feed them?” she said.

It is a question that many young Nigerians are to face over the coming decades in Africa’s most populous country, where a booming population combined with poverty, record unemployment and roiling ethnic conflicts have some fearing a demographic “time bomb.”

Nigeria’s population is expected to leap from 190 million today to 410 million by 2050 — and to almost twice that number again by the end of the century — the UN’s World Population Prospects said.

That would mean that in just 30 years, Nigeria would be the world’s third-biggest nation, behind only China and India.

For young women like Adegbite, who was born in Bada, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the economic capital of Lagos, getting access to sex education and birth control can be difficult.

However, Bada, which lacks electricity and paved roads, does have a family planning center that opened last year.

Condoms, the pill and hormonal implants are freely available at the local 9ja Girls Centre, run by the US-based non-profit organization Populations Services International.

“Most of the girls here are sexually active at 15, sometimes 14 years old,” Naomi Ali of the center said. “They start very early, whatever their religion, so they quickly become pregnant and they stop going to school.”

At first teenagers and young women in the area were suspicious, but Ali said that hundreds now openly talk in the street about once taboo issues such as sexuality and romantic relationships.

“It’s difficult. Sometimes they believe that contraception will make them infertile, or the parents categorically reject it,” she said.

Nigerian women have on average 5.53 children, according to the World Bank, but the rate fluctuates greatly between major cities like Lagos and rural areas, where it reaches up to eight children per woman.

The situation in northern Nigeria was “urgent,” UN Population Fund West Africa director Mabingue Ngom said.

“If we do nothing, we are going to face major problems,” Ngom said.

“Of the 20 million young Africans who enter the job market every year, only 2 to 3 million find work,” he said.

“That’s what feeds into conflicts and terrorism,” he added, referring to the Boko Haram militant group that emerged from northern Nigeria, an area which, along with neighboring Niger, has the world’s highest fertility rates.

Nigeria is small compared with the world’s other highly populous nations — at 923,000km2, it is one-10th the size of the US — and the fight for space is already causing conflict.

In the fertile center of the West African country, clashes last year between farmers and herders over access to land and water left several thousand dead.

Efforts to get families to have fewer children have struggled due to the lack of a social safety net.

The idea that having more children means elderly parents would more likely be taken care of after retirement remains deeply rooted in Nigerian society.

However, some analysts have said that large population growth could be an opportunity for the country, as foreign investors eye a rapidly expanding market.

Population growth “should become a dividend for the next 20 years in Nigeria,” Renaissance Capital global chief economist Charles Robertson said.

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