Editorials

The population policy pendulum

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7215.933 (Published 09 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:933

Needs to settle near the middle—and acknowledge the importance of numbers

  1. Malcolm Potts, Bixby professor (potts@slip.net)
  1. School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

    Whether loved or unwanted, the birth of the six billionth child will be of great importance to his or her family. In a world that adds one million more births than deaths every 110 hours, however, the aggregate of human numbers is also important. Unfortunately, in such an emotional area, interest groups have often promoted their own priorities at the expense of the bigger picture.1

    Over the past 25 years population policies have swung back and forth like a pendulum. At the United Nations conference in Bucharest in 1974 India and China proclaimed “development is the best contraceptive,” yet shortly afterwards China introduced the one child per family policy and India flirted with coercive sterilisation. In 1984 in Mexico City the United States asserted that every demographic problem could be solved by a free market economy, while developing countries supported mainstream family planning. At the 1994 conference in Cairo a new generation of advocates shifted the emphasis from “population control” to a holistic, reproductive health approach.2

    At one level the Cairo conference was a superb achievement, but no single …

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