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Experts Warn Nigeria on Population Growth - 2003-10-06


In Nigeria, population experts are warning against the increasing growth rate. The country --which has more than 120 million people-- is growing at about 2.9 % -- one of the highest rates in the world.

Experts are calling on the National Assembly to urgently enact legislation limiting the number of children Nigerian men can have. Proponents of the legislation say they hope this will discourage men from marrying more than one wife, and having large families. They say that despite family planning campaigns men continue to add more wives - and thus more children. They also say that women should not marry until age 18. They say this will help check the alarming population growth rate.

Some believe the high crime rate and lawlessness among youth are due to inadequate food and social amenities, which are in turn the results of overpopulation and a poor economy. They suggest that men should be specifically addressed in the drive to control population.

Kayode Obembe is an obstetrician gynecologist -- and the first vice president of the Nigeria Medical Association, or N-M-A. He says lawmakers should follow the example of China and stop what he describes as an impending catastrophe: "There [was] legislation like that in China when their population was growing at a very uncontrollable rate. At the time I think it was the norm there that you can only have one child. The legislation is good because if somebody now goes against it, the law can now take its course. "

However, others say dialogue and persuasion can solve the problem. They say religious leaders should be involved because there's need to teach birth control in churches and mosques. Clerics should be in a position to inform their followers of the need and importance to reduce child births for the well-being of all.

Meanwhile the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, or U-N-F-P-A, plans spending about 40 million US dollars in the country over the next five years. It says part of the fund will be in the form of medical and birth control equipment. Officials say the contribution will help improve reproductive health - reducing high maternal and infant mortality. Officials say that curbing teenage pregnancy should be the focus. They say that 22 per cent of teenage girls have unwanted pregnancies.

This phenomenon, the organization says, extends to about 15 out of Nigeria's 36 states.

Mrs. Lara Adeyemi is a program officer on youth empowerment and reproductive health initiative at the privately run group, CHESTRAD International in Ibadan. CHESTRAD provides vocational training - and lessons in reproductive health - to young people.

Mrs. Adeyemi blames the problem on societal values saying that inadequate sex education is given to the young girls at home. On the other hand, some Nigerian parents do talk to their sons about sex in an effort to prove their manliness with girls. Mrs. Adeyemi says the practice has often left the girls at a loss when the issue of sex arises. Mrs. Adeyemi says her organization has embarked on training workshops in schools for girls on how to motivate themselves and achieve successful careers.

In addition, Professor Oladapo Ladipo of the Association for Reproductive and Family Health, or A-R-F-H, in Ibadan says his organization is embarking on reproductive health education programs for students and other persons in Oyo state. "We have peer education programs in partnership with the Oyo state ministry of education and also ministry of health. This has been a very successful program. We also have community-based projects in market places and some rural communities as well. "

However, Professor Ladipo says the work is vast and time consuming. He says the its impact is not yet visible. "Our response to the massive awareness campaign about family planning has not had much impact," he says. "The Contraceptive prevalence rate as is said is one of the lowest in the world - approximately nine per cent. These is attributed t so many things - the socio economic situation and the cultural aspect. And also the fact that in the early part of nineties Nigeria was decertified by USAID, so most of the products that were coming in heavily subsidized and even giving out free were not coming in again. "

In addition, Professor Oladipo says most previous governments never focused on population issues. However, he says the present government favors reproductive health. However, funds have not yet been made available to vigorously carry out the campaign.

He applauds the U-N-F-P-A's 40 million US dollar fund and the government's five-year plan saying it will go a long way toward addressing Nigeria's reproductive health and population problems.

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