by Tolu Orekoya
Listen up Nigeria: we have to stop having so many babies. I know, I know; “family planning” is antithesis to our nature, in a culture where a large family denotes bounty from God/Allah, wealth, prestige and position.
These days though, it can act as a barrier to upward mobility. To raise children well takes time and money, and the truth is that a large family is an expense few can afford.
President Goodluck Jonathan recently returned from South Korea, where he attended a nuclear energy summit. While Dame Patience Jonathan was busy praying for the nation and hanging out with boy bands, the President was trying to lure Korean investors, saying, “My administration intends to borrow a leaf from the Korean experience and the experience of other developed economies, to transform the Nigerian economy to one of the world’s largest 20 economies by the year 2020.”
Wishful thinking on the president’s part aside, S. Korea’s economic growth is certainly worth emulating, and one very important vein in that leaf we hope to pluck is that of population control.
Way back in the 1960s, South Korea was in a different time and place. Coming off the Korean War that left the peninsula a divided nation, the Southern half of the peninsula was dealing with a massive population problem. The rural, primarily agrarian population had a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 6.16 (Nigeria’s was slightly higher at 6.35), meaning that 1 woman was expected to have about 6 children during her lifetime. Population explosion was on the bubble, rising rapidly and becoming a cause for great concern for a country trying to recover from a costly and devastating war.
The government realised that curbing population growth was a huge priority, and set up an agency to deal with it. At one point, 25% of the country’s health budget was dedicated to family planning alone! The government advertised and advocated their family planning ethos heavily throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, with the central theme of a “small and prosperous family”.
To be precise:
“In 1962, the year the official government campaign started, the slogan, “we cannot escape from poverty if you have a baby whenever you want,” was coined, and set the tone for the programme.
– During the 1970s, the slogan of family planning was, “To raise two children well regardless of their sex.”
– The 1980s saw the continuation of family planning. However, it was strengthened further. The slogan of the 1980s was, “Two children are also too many, let’s get just one child and raise it well.””
Like Nigerians, male children are very important to Koreans, and so there was a special effort made to mute the preference for boys, especially in the ‘70s. Abortion, although illegal, was a tool often used—to the extent that there were roaming “abortion clinics” providing the service—and at its peak in 1977, there were 2.75 abortions for every live birth in the capital city of Seoul. Contraception use (available through government sources) rose in women in their reproductive stage from 9% in 1961, to 44% in 1976, and birth rates for girls between the ages of 15 – 19 fell by over 70%, by the mid-seventies.
As the graph above shows, the campaign paid off. By the mid-eighties the S. Korean TFR had reached the replacement rate point of about 2.0. In tandem with their other economic and social policies (e.g. a get-out-of-military-duty card in exchange for getting a vasectomy) they were well on their way to economic success. Did I mention that they accomplished this while under military rule? And that Christian churches had initiated their family planning campaigns as far back as 1957?
Like I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Korea; I find that there are plenty of cultural sensibilities that Nigerians share. A deep sense of family and tradition, fairly conservative values, and a huge similarity in our sense of humour are only some of the things both nations have in common.
Current numbers put our TFR at 5.56. Teaching the ‘rhythm method’ is not going to cut it for an undereducated population, neither am I calling for ‘drive-thru’ abortion clinics. What I am saying, is that the government has a responsibility to drive home the point that a “small, prosperous family” is key to moving up in the world as individual and as a nation. We must all play our part; from the government, to religious bodies (both Christian and Muslim), to we ourselves discarding our preferences and prejudices, as well as letting the government into our bedrooms and telling us what to do.
There are many important lessons we could learn from South Korea’s economic and financial success, but they are not easy and they are certainly not going to miraculously get us into the top 20 economies in the world in a mere eight years. It took 20 years of unrelenting, dogged sensitising of the Korean people to get results. It took will from a government dedicated to growth and prosperity for every single citizen.
Tolu Orekoya is a freelance writer, former Assistant/Deputy editor for a lifestyle magazine, K-entertainment enthusiast (and by enthusiast she means moderately obsessed) and subeditor here at Y! You can reach her at [email protected]