The most populous continent in the world needs active population control to avert disaster
Indian passengers struggle to enter a crowded train compartment in Mumbai on July 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
The latest United Nations world population projection projects that there will be 8 billion people on the planet by November this year and 8.5 billion by 2050.
Unfortunately, Central and South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are going to be home to the greatest number of people.
These regions are already in the throes of severe economic hardship and social upheaval and will serve as hubs for humanity’s landmark achievement.
In Asia, the most populous continent in the world, the flag bearers of population growth will be India, Pakistan and the Philippines in that order. What roles do religions play in these nations to help curb population growth?
Although the demographic boom itself is not the direct cause of any problem, it can go haywire if the socio-economic contexts are not conducive to its growth.
Although India and the Philippines are doing well with thriving economies, they are also notorious for their growing income disparity. Thus, socially, the poor of these nations struggle miserably to make ends meet, while the rich sleep in luxury.
“Most often in village communities, where the majority of Asians live, marriage, family and childbearing are dictated by the norms of religion rather than reason or resources”
China, the world’s richest nation by purchasing power, which currently ranks first as the world’s most populous nation with 1.43 billion people, is doing well.
Years of state-sponsored population control mechanisms have done the trick for the communist nation which is also the guardian of the world’s second largest economy. India, which currently has a population of 1.41 billion, is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country next year.
Pakistan, with 234 million people, will retain its fifth place while rising to 366 million by 2080. In less than 15 years, Pakistan will also overtake Indonesia to become the fourth most populous country in the world and become also the largest Muslim country in terms of population at the same time.
Bangladesh, a country with a Muslim majority like Pakistan and Indonesia, has been able to control its population growth. With some 160 million inhabitants, Bangladesh maintains an appreciable growth rate of 1% (annual variation) in 2020, against 2% for Pakistan.
Twenty years ago, the growth rate in Bangladesh was 2% while in Pakistan it was 2.5%. While Bangladesh has halved its growth rate in 20 years, Pakistan’s reduction has been minimal. India took 30 years to reduce its growth rate from 2% to 1% in 2020.
In most Asian populations, religion plays an essential role in the understanding of life and its actualization in society. More often than not, in village communities, where the majority of Asians live, marriage, family and childbearing are dictated by religious norms rather than reason or resources. Population growth in Asia, especially in South Asia, then becomes a reality linked to religion.
“Religions help create an environment of hatred and ridicule for those who advocate safer sex and family planning”
About 60% of the world’s estimated 1.3 billion Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – in that order – becoming the countries with the largest Muslim populations in the world.
Most of the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus are found in Asia and at least 80% of them live in India, or 966 million. Buddhists fill Southeast Asia. Christians are a negligible group except in the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
None of these religions advocates family planning or any form of population control. On the contrary, all directly or indirectly encourage large families.
Most of the leaders of these religions, in their attempt to verify their perceived immorality of sex outside of marriage, insist that the divine purpose of sex is reproduction, and that it is a sin to have sex. Just for fun.
Religions help create an environment of hatred and ridicule for those who advocate safer sex and family planning, which frustrates any government attempt, if any, to control population growth.
Sociologists link high populations to lack of education and poverty. There are many examples, but it’s a chicken and egg problem. Which of these problems came first, causing the others, continues to be debated.
“The call by religious leaders, including some Catholic leaders in India, to breed and increase numbers for social domination is irresponsible”
However, it remains irrefutable that lack of education, poverty and population are inseparable social realities in South Asia.
Religions are meant to contribute to human betterment and would naturally lose their relevance if their teaching added to the resulting poverty and misery. The call from religious leaders, including some Catholic leaders in India, to breed and increase numbers for social dominance is irresponsible to say the least.
The Asian Church has been at the forefront of eradicating poverty with its vast network of social institutions. It is easy to notice that in places where Catholics have thriving and educated communities, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Goa and Kerala in India, the Christian birth rate drops dramatically compared to poor communities in other parts of Asia.
Socially advanced and educated Catholic communities prefer nuclear families. But there is no data available to establish that these Catholic families ignored Church teaching that using a condom is a mortal sin. However, common sense tells us that they managed to plan their family, naturally or not.
Much of Asia needs active population control to avert disaster and save natural resources. Controlled growth is also necessary to save people from avoidable poverty, violence, crime and misery. Religions look sad when their teachings add to the social misery of millions of people. They then become useless and despicable.
The need for population control is essential and immediate. It would be an illusion to think that religions, including the Catholic Church, would change their position on family planning. But they can accelerate their work for the education and social advancement of the poor. This would spread the magic trick that is at work among the advanced Catholic communities of Asia to people all over Asia.
Education is the key, for the people and for the religious leaders.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.