If you Google the words “population control,” you will find all kinds of websites with conspiracy theories about the UN trying to control the global population. It’s no secret that the UN is concerned with providing family planning to areas of the world with a combination of high birth rates and high poverty, but I’m not sure that merits the status of global conspiracy since what they promote is all voluntary for the people affected. The stated purpose is to improve health for women of childbearing age and prevent impoverished families from struggling to provide basic necessities for too many children.
Once you get past all the crazypants stuff, there is a wealth of information on actual population laws, past and present, that range from the smart and understandable to the draconian and evil. When governments find themselves faced with a population that is increasing beyond the scope of resources available to healthily sustain it, they can take a lot of different roads to address it. Some nations seek to educate people about contraceptive options and make birth control more widely available in the hopes that families will choose to limit family size voluntarily. Other governments actually engage in forced sterilizations, often without the knowledge or consent of women. (Notably, these sterilizations always seem to happen to women. Men are not the targets. Makes you think, huh?)
As for countries with low birth rates, well, those governments try to step in as well. Methods of encouraging more births can be pretty creative — and a lot less scary than forced sterilizations. For example, in one European country you might be able to win a major appliance by having a baby on a certain day!
Here are some population control methods in countries all around the world!
Possibly the most famous population control policy is China’s one-child policy. Established in 1979, Chinese families are now fined if they have more than one child — an amount equal to 3-10 times the household income. While wealthy families can afford to pay the fine or leave the country and give birth to children in Singapore or the U.S. to skirt the rules, poor families struggle. There are policies that force women to get abortions for unauthorized pregnancies or sterilize them surgically. Because of the strong cultural preference for male children, girl babies are aborted or abandoned, and the population sex ratio is now skewed 118 boys to 100 girls.
Russia is facing falling birth rates, which is an economic problem for any nation. A disproportionate number of elderly people is a strain on a smaller workforce. In order to encourage couples to have more babies, Russia declared a Day of Conception on September 12, 2007. Anyone having a baby on June 12 was eligible to win a car or a fridge! On Valentine’s Day in 2013, President Putin brought in Boys II Men to perform in Moscow to get couples in the mood to make babies for Mother Russia.
India has the opposite problem of Russia: the tremendous birth rate has created a disproportionately young population, which is good economically, but bad for resources. A method one of the Indian state governments is using to try and slow births is paying couples to wait to have babies. The state offers newlyweds a cash grant of 5000 rupees or $106 to wait two years to have their first child. Other states have made having more than two children a disqualification from holding public office.
In 1966, Romania was faced with the alarming prospect of zero population growth. In order to reverse the trend, authorities banned all elective abortions and criminalized the import of contraception. Anyone, married or single, who was childless after the age of 25 was subject to a tax of 10-20% of income. For people who did have children, there were family allowances paid by the government and cash awards to women having their third child or beyond. But all of these policies look benign compared to policies in the 1980s: all women of childbreaing age — even pubescent girls — were subject to monthly pelvic exams to detect pregnancies and ensure all of them were carried to term.
The secretive nation of Uzbekistan has a population of 28 million and growing. In order to control population, the government has instituted a policy of forced sterilizations of women after their second child. But according to a BBC report, the sterilizations are done without the knowledge or consent of women. Doctors are given a quota of sterilizations they have to perform, and they do them without telling their patients. The C-section rate has reportedly risen to 80% because that makes the forced sterilizations easier to perform.
6. South Korea
In South Korea, family planning policies of the 1960s and 1970s worked so well that the birth rate fell to 1.2 children per woman, well below the “replacement rate” of two children per couple. Financial concerns were one of the deterring factors for couples considering children today, so the government stepped in to offer assistance with childcare. They also instituted a “Family Day” the third Thursday of every month where offices shut down early to encourage family time and baby-making time.
After the 1979 revolution in Iran, a population boom strained resources dramatically. In order to slow the birth rate, the government instituted policies that included mandatory contraception education for couples before marriage, a state-owned condom factory providing free condoms, and state-sponsored vasectomies. But in 2012, the government reversed its course and called for a pro-natalist policy that could effectively double the Iranian population. Schemes to encourage births include a financial reward for each baby born and annual payments to the family until the child turns 18.
Pakistan has South Asia’s highest birth rate, with women having an average of 4 children. However, the high population growth is problematic in a nation with high unemployment, a shaky electrical grid, and growing militant movement. Authorities are promoting child spacing by encouraging 3 years between babies, something supported by the Koran, which recommends 24 months of breastfeeding. However, a traditional desire for many children is leading to resistance to the campaigns.
The authorities in Singapore have taken on an unusual partner in an effort to encourage fertility: Mentos (The Freshmaker). They declared August 9, 2012 a National Night to get patriotic by getting busy. The Mentos ad included a catchy rap that went viral: “Singapore’s population, it needs some increasing/So forget waving flags, August 9th we be freaking … I’m a patriotic husband, you’re my patriotic wife, let’s do our civic duty and manufacture life/The birth rate ain’t goin’ spike itself!”
10. United States
The US actually has a surprisingly low fertility rate, with women having an average of 1.89 children. One reason for this could be the wide availability of contraception thanks to a federal program know as Title X, a federal grant program that funds health centers providing contraceptives as well as STD testing, cancer screenings and other health services. But the US has a darker past with population control as well. Prior to World War II, the eugenics movement, the idea that the human race could be improved by breeding people with desirable traits, was popular in the United States. Eugenics policies included immigration limits on nationalities considered “undesirable,” such as Asian or Southern European. There were also laws providing for sterilizing undesirable Americans, including people with disabilities and mental illness — the so-called mental defectives. Thousands of people were forcibly sterilized, and the practice continued into the 1970s.