Zero Population Growth vs Population Control

By Marian Starkey
WASHINGTON DC, Jul 4 2019 – Knowledge is power, but with the caveat that said knowledge is based in fact. Otherwise, it’s misinformation.

I appreciate the journalism of IPS. Similarly, I respect and spend much of my time advocating for Americans to demand that the United States support the work of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Therefore, I was disappointed by two elements of an IPS interview with Dr. Benoit Kalasa about efforts to address population and development challenges as they pertain to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Demographic Dividend

Dr. Kalasa, Director of the Technical Division at UNFPA, says that the addition of two billion people in the next 30 years will pose challenges, but will also bring “tremendous opportunity” in the form of a demographic dividend.

The demographic dividend, however, is not predicated on future population growth, but on fertility decline that follows rapid population growth. The benefits come from a changing age structure that increases the ratio of the working-age population to the youth population.

This shrinking of the base of a country’s population pyramid allows economies to develop rapidly, if the right investments are made in health, education, and employment. That’s because, during a period when a large number of adults are economically productive, a smaller proportion of young people require their support.

In addition, when fertility declines, investments in each child tend to increase, preparing a healthier, better educated generation of future workers to be more productive per capita than their parents’ generation.

The demographic dividend is typically considered a one-generation “bonus” period, but the benefits of smaller families extend far beyond that relatively short window.

Many of today’s upper middle-income countries started this century as lower middle-income or lower-income countries — mainly those in Latin America. It’s no coincidence that the total fertility rate of the Latin America and Caribbean region nearly halved, from 3.9 to 2.0, between the early 1980s and today.

Giving readers the impression that population growth can be the silver bullet that helps an economy grow — when the population is growing most rapidly in the poorest, least developed countries — is what economists in high-income countries are known for doing.

They often tout the shortsighted Ponzi scheme of population growth for continued economic gains through an increasing consumer base, with no regard for the limits of the planet to absorb that population growth.

Zero Population Growth vs. Population Control

More troubling than the faulty description of the demographic dividend was the handling of what could have been an interesting conversation about population stabilization efforts around the world by countries that signed on to the 1994 Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and by the international donor and NGO communities.

Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Kalasa responded to a question about the “1960s concept of Zero Population Growth (ZPG)” with a reassurance that UNFPA rejects “population control” and only supports voluntary, rights-based family planning.

Population control and ZPG are not synonymous. Zero population growth is the demographic term for a population that is growing by zero percent — neither increasing nor decreasing in size. Population control is a strategy for achieving zero population growth that is outdated and condemned by all credible groups.

It’s understandable that UNFPA would want to make absolutely clear that its mission and programs steer clear of population control. All rights-based population groups, including Population Connection (which was founded under the name “Zero Population Growth”), engage in the same reassurances.

Every Republican president in the United States since Ronald Reagan (including Donald Trump) has denied funding to UNFPA based on a fallacious interpretation of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment.

The interpretation goes like this: China has engaged in decades of coercive abortion and sterilization of its citizens. UNFPA has a program in China. Therefore, UNFPA is engaged in coercive abortion and sterilization in China.

Never mind that UNFPA’s program in China is aimed at demonstrating that rights-based family planning programs work at least as well as coercive ones. Still, because of these erroneous accusations, it makes sense that UNFPA would want to reiterate at every opportunity possible that it does not condone or tolerate population control.

Striving for zero population growth via voluntary fertility decline, however, has nothing to do with population control. Family planning programs that expand access to modern contraceptive education, services, and supplies operate for the benefit of the individuals who may choose to participate — or not — at their own discretion.

There are an estimated 214 million women in the developing world who have an unmet need for family planning: They do not want to become pregnant in the next two years, but they are not using modern contraception.

Their reasons for nonuse range from fear of side effects to living too far from a clinic to having unsupportive partners. These barriers, and more, can be address through education about myths regarding side effects; offering a full range of contraceptive options so that women can find the methods that work best for them; mobile outreach units that travel to rural areas; and partner education (and when that fails, through methods that are discreet and less likely to be detected by an unsupportive partner).

None of these strategies falls under population control, and yet they all bring us closer to zero population growth.

Australia’s Forgotten Asylum Seekers

By Charlotte Munns
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2019 – As the focus of Australian politics shifts away from refugee and asylum-seeker policies, the government avoids accountability for inhumane actions.

Despite clear concerns that Australia’s offshore processing facilities for asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island are violating basic human rights, public scrutiny seems to have waned. Recent federal elections saw little emphasis on refugee policy, followed by an apparent disinterest in critiquing the policy.

This is not in spite of recent concerns. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, Dainius Puras, issued a report on April 2nd outlining major concerns.

“Many suffer from physical and mental conditions, which seem to have been caused and exacerbated by their prolonged and indefinite confinement,” he wrote, “there are multiple reports of self-harm and suicide attempts.”

Puras also noted reports of mal-aligned bones that had not been treated, poor access to health care, a lack of specialists, and cessation of torture and trauma counselling services in the offshore facilities.

This report followed years of scrutiny from international organisations like the United Nations and Amnesty International.

On July 19th 2013, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that from that day forward no asylum seeker arriving in Australia without a visa would ever be settled in the country.

Under the policy, later named ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, all asylum seekers would be placed in detention centres on Manus Island or Nauru, and details of boat arrivals would not be made public.

This hardline policy was prompted by a marked increase in the number of boat arrivals in the country. In 2008 Australia had 161 individuals arrive. By 2012 this had increased to 17,202.

The Australian Government adopted the slogan “Stop the Boats” as part of its campaign to promote domestically and overseas that it would not resettle asylum seekers within its borders.

Simon Kurian, cinematographer and director of the documentary ‘Stop the Boats’, told IPS, “thus began the demonising of people seeking asylum in Australia, especially by sea.”

“From that time on the gross misrepresentation of people seeking asylum began; beneath the sentiment was a thick underbelly of racism which the politicians used to their advantage,” Kurian said.

Over time, both major parties adopted the “Stop the Boats” rhetoric as the policy became a political move for votes. The hardline approach has enjoyed significant public support since its conception.

In 2014, 42% of the Australian voting public were in support of the policy. In 2017, 48% agreed, according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

Furthermore, the policy has been successful in stopping boat arrivals. While asylum seekers are still attempting to reach Australia, albeit far fewer than in past years, none have been processed in offshore facilities. Just over 50 individuals arrived in 2017, however all were returned to their country of origin.

“Offshore processing as currently enacted by the Australian Government may have served its national interests better than the current international protection system, but is still in violation of the Convention to which Australia is a signatory,” the Lowy Institute said.

While the policy has been successful in achieving its goals and responding to public opinion, the conditions under which it has been carried out have been heavily scrutinised.

Many organisations have drawn attention to the policy’s violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory.

“Every fundamental principle that underpins the Convention to which Australia is a founding signatory is contravened by the Stop the Boats and Operation Sovereign Borders policies,” Kurian said, “all of this knowingly, with intent, without compunction and with no real reprisal or consequence.”

In 2013, the Office of the UN High Commissioner criticised offshore detention centres as “below international standards for the reception and treatment of asylum seekers.”

The Guardian newspaper released in 2016 ‘The Nauru Files’ detailing over 2,000 incident reports from the detention centre. They detailed incidents of self-harm, sexual assault, abuse and injury.

While the actual operations of the detention centres have been shrouded in secrecy by the Australian government, the sheer number of alarming reports raises concern.

The Australian Government has severely limited public knowledge of boat arrivals, refused media entry to offshore detention facilities and disallowed interviews with asylum seekers. In order to get footage for his documentary, Kurian was forced to film secretly.

The Australian Government has repeatedly claimed it is the responsibility of Nauru and Papua New Guinea governments to regulate the conditions in the centres.

Despite clear concerns, and alarming secrecy, domestic and international public scrutiny has waned. While fewer boats have attempted to reach the country’s shores, there still remain hundreds of men in detention centres on Manus Island.

With the majority of women and children moved to community processing facilities on the mainland, the emotional appeal of the campaign to shut down detention centres, or at least improve conditions has weakened.

As a result, refugee policy took a peripheral role in recent federal elections. “Climate change, housing, taxation all became the focus of discussion before and during the campaign season. Neither party touched the refugee policy,” Kurian said.

By shifting the election focus, the Australian government has managed to avoid accountability for violating the UN Refugee Convention, evaded proper investigation into reports of human rights abuses, and stemmed public criticism.

“The 600 men who remain on Manus are forgotten,” Kurian said.