Rwandan women fertility drops

16 Aug

Rwanda’s population is about 11 million and growing. That has many people worried. There is some good news, though. It now appears brakes are being put on this apparently run-away growth – at least that’s what one gathers from the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey 2010 report.

The report shows that there is a decline in most things that favour fast population growth. For starters, it shows that there has been a steep decline in the fertility of Rwandan women. According to the findings of the survey, the fertility rate of women (the number of children a woman can have during her reproductive life) has progressively declined over the last five years. In 2005 the rate was 6.1 children per woman. It fell to 5.5 in 2008. In 2010, the rate fell further to 4.6.

Of course, there are variations between rural and urban women, but even within these, there is a consistent downward trend. For instance, the fertility rate among urban women is 3.4, while that of rural women is 4.8.

If this trend continues – and there is no reason why it should not – we can project a drop in the fertility rate to less than 2 children per woman by 2015. A disclaimer here. This is not the projection of the National Bureau of Statistics that carried out the RDHS.  It is only your columnist pretending to be statistically well-informed.

It is clear that the reduction in fertility has to do with increased awareness. Women are able to make choices about the number of children they can have and when to have them. For instance, e88% of married women say that they either want to delay the birth of their next child or want to have no more children at all.

According to the survey, these choices are partly informed by the increasing number of living children a woman has. There is thus a link between the number of living children and the desire to stop child bearing.

The conclusion from this is that more children are now able to survive because of a number of related factors – better health care, improved nutrition and more educated mothers.

Another reason for the fall in fertility rate is contraception. The survey reports that 50% of women in union (married or living together) use some method of contraception, and most of them (45%) use modern methods.

As the fertility rate has been falling, the use of contraception has been rising. .For example , in 2005 only 10% of women in a union used modern methods of contraception. The number rose to 27% in 2008 and now stands at 45%.

It was also observed that the use of contraception increases with education. And so one can project that with basic education extending to nine years and soon to twelve, and more girls receiving education and able to stay in school longer, the use of contraception is bound to rise faster.

These figures and trends that indicate a slowdown in the rate of population growth prove the government’s approach to such issues has been right. There has been a reluctance to legislate on the number of children that a family can have despite pressure to do so. Instead, the choice has been to persuade and raise awareness about the necessity to have, say, no more than three children. This approach plus education and improved wellbeing seem to be producing the desired results.

The RDHS preliminary report notes other improvement in the lives of Rwandans – all of which indicate that we are pursuing the right policies and practices all round.

The chances of children living beyond their fifth birthday and growing to adulthood have been enhanced, and as noted, this partly explains the falling fertility rate. This has been a result of many initiatives such as vaccination, the report notes. It says 98% or more children received BCG vaccination, while 95 % were vaccinated against measles.

Again the level of education of mothers plays a crucial role in the coverage of vaccination. The survey found out that vaccination coverage increased from 87% among children of mothers with no education to 90% among children of mothers with primary education, and to 97% among mothers with secondary or higher education.

Children’s chances of living have also been improved by better nutrition. The report notes that there has been improvement in nutritional quality as shown by some key indicators. For instance, the percentage of stunted children (short for their age) fell from 51% in 2005 to 44% in 2010, that of wasted children (too light for their height) from 5% to 3% in the same period. Those underweight (too light for age) reduced from 18% to 11% between 2005 and 2010.

Without perhaps intending to do so, the RDHS makes a strong case for education and urbanisation. The two are recurrent factors in the various improvements noted in the survey. The case for education is that informed choices are based on better knowledge and information. The argument for urbanisation seems to be that urban centres (and by extension, better settlements like imudugudu) increase access to better facilities and information.

Rwanda has been posting strong economic growth figures. The RDHS now shows that there are strong social growth figures to match.

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