How educating girls can contribute to Uganda’s demographic transition

Authorities and development partners are worried that Uganda’s population ‘explosion’ (which has been exaggerated as one of the highest in the world which is not true because there are countries with over four percent versus Uganda’s 3.2 percent growth rate which has remained stable for decades) will constrain economic growth, social progress and aggravate environmental degradation. If Uganda’s economy is growing at an average annual rate of 6 percent and projected to increase and population at 3 percent and projected to decline albeit slowly then population growth will not fundamentally undermine economic growth. Poverty is high because of skewed income distribution in favor of a few rich families connected with the first family and in-laws. Rural environment has been damaged largely by reckless extensive agriculture and draining wetlands that leads to clearance of large swathes of vegetation and commercial ranches owned by few rich families as in Kabale and Nyabushoz districts. Urban decay has been caused basically by mismanagement, corruption and lack of planning.

Uganda officials have recorded fertility rate at 7 children per woman (this figure appears to be for rural areas only) when it is now about 6.5. It would have been useful to indicate on page four of the 2010 population report the number of children per woman that survive to adulthood – the figure would help to determine whether there is sufficient incentive or not for family planning. They have also reported contraceptive prevalence rate of 23 percent without indicating that it has increased from 15 percent. They have added that dependency ratio is 115 percent (2009) without indicating the age groups of children and the elderly as well as the economically active adults included in the calculation to give an idea how the figure of 115 percent which appears to be too high was arrived at (the glossary section in the 2010 population report omitted the definition of dependency ratio).

It appears the information was presented to make a case for urgent birth control. Birth control is presented in Uganda news papers as the only solution in the short, medium and long term. Population is a complex matter and large numbers are still needed for family, cultural (sons vs. daughters), ethnic, religious and political considerations. Individuals or couples will lower fertility when it suits them – and they do so! So Ugandans are not going to jump to birth control because the government has said so unless the Chinese type approach is applied which would be sad. The government indirectly set a limit of four children per family for free primary education which is a form of birth control for poor families especially when accompanied by provision of contraceptives as has happened in Uganda.

There will always be suspicions which get heightened when governments like Museveni’s with its sectarian preferences steps in. Catholics would want Protestants to do it first and vice versa. Northerners would want southerners to it first and vice versa. Muslims won’t even think about it because they are few and politically insignificant – they want more power through large numbers. These issues need to be understood first and preferably left to local people and their champions – not foreigners from abroad or Kampala. It is a slow and incremental process that needs careful and sometimes indirect handling!

Population growth in Uganda is a function of the difference between birth rate and death rate plus the difference between in-migrants and out-migrants including refugees. Uganda has gone through terrible times of Amin regime, guerrilla war and wars in northern and eastern Uganda with so many deaths plus deaths due to AIDS pandemic and endemic diseases. When you add all these tragedies Uganda’s natural population growth must have declined or at least increased slowly – not exploded! But historically when a country emerges from tragic times, as Uganda has, survivors increase fertility to make up for the loss of loved ones. May be that is what is happening and birth control won’t have an impact in the short to medium term.

Since the growth rate has remained constant at 3.2 per cent per annum for decades, there must be a compensating factor. And this factor could be the difference between in-migrants and out-migrants (Uganda has been a magnet attracting migrants and refugees most of whom stay on) for which we are told there are no statistics. Unless this figure is made available (because the information is available in the ministries of Labor and Internal Affairs, UNHCR and Statistics department) the growth rate and total population will be difficult to disaggregate leading to faulty policy design. Maps showing geographic concentration of fertility rates are also needed for a targeted and cost-effective response.

Implementation of the contraception option is problematic. Religious and cultural beliefs regarding large families are still very strong. Male partners have not been integrated into birth control programs. Health-care facilities mostly in rural areas where fertility is high are few and far between, there is an acute shortage of skilled staff including at the primary-health care level, while costs remain high. Besides, negative side effects have been reported to be severe including loss of sexual interest which can be a very serious deterrent. You cannot have an effective birth control program in an environment like this!

Demographic transition (from high death and high birth rates to low death and low birth rates) is a function of many factors. Economic empowerment of women and especially girls’ education have been singled out as crucial factors in the transition. Yet young girls in Uganda continue to drop out of school at a high rate and are married off early. Dropout is high due in part to lack of school meals. Despite a resolution by NEPAD urging African governments to provide school meals using locally produced food that puts money into peasants’ pockets, the Uganda government has been unable or unwilling to help. Asking the World Bank to do a study and recommend the way forward on school meals is unnecessary because the benefits of school feeding are very well known in developed and developing countries.

This is how an educated woman reduces fertility. Because she stays at school longer, she marries late. She seeks medical care for herself and her children sooner and houses and feeds herself and children better than an uneducated woman, so her children have a good chance of surviving to adulthood. Also because she has pension she does not depend on children in her old age. Therefore she produces fewer children that are more evenly spaced. Her fertility rate drops and she contributes to the country’s demographic transition (Workshop report {July 28 2005} on Women’s Economic Empowerment UNFPA). The government is urged to reconsider favorably the provision of lunches to keep girls in school longer because there are demographic dividends.


About ugandansatheart(UAH)

Uganda's Leading information Centre.“UGANDANS AT HEART “(UAH), is a free-to-join, non-profit making e-mail discussion forum that is secular, intellectual and non-aligned politically, culturally or religiously with over 30,000 members worldwide. It was started in 2007 by a UK-based Ugandan, Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba, and it is devoted to matters of interest to Ugandans and East Africans. People from Uganda have scattered to countries around the world. Most of the Ugandans in Diaspora like to maintain their African connections and values. UAH was originally started to act as a link between Ugandans abroad and those at home.That's why its membership ranges from: Ugandans abroad, Uganda police, representatives of traditional leaders, MPs, journalists, cabinet ministers, religious leaders to locals in Uganda.
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