Kenya has made great strides in reducing its birth rate over the last few decades to promote more sustainable population development, but families are still having more children than they want. East Africa correspondent Gabe Joselow reports education is critical to closing the gap.
In the last 40 years, Kenya has lowered the fertility rate - the number of children a woman bears during her life - from about eight children per woman down to just under 5, according to World Bank and Kenyan government statistics.
The demographic change is part of Kenya's deliberate strategy to promote sustainable population growth.
Kenya has the second-lowest fertility rate in East Africa, behind Burundi, while neighboring Somalia and Uganda average around six children per woman.
The director general of Kenya's National Council for Population and Development, Boniface K'Oyugi, says socio-economic progress has changed perceptions about family size.
While it was once more cost effective to have more children who can work and give money back to the parents, he says, now the money flows the other way.
“You find the direction now changing, from now, from the parent to the children. So if the direction of the wealth, the flow, is mainly from the parents to the children, now you see the fewer children you have, the better you are as a parent.”
K'Oyugi says historically, Kenyans used to have more children than they desired, based on the sad assumption that some would die.
As public health services have improved, child mortality rates have fallen.
Still, K'Oyugi says many Kenyans are having more children than they say they want.
“It is still the case now in Kenya. According to the latest demographic and health survey, both men and women desire to have four children, on the average, but they are actually having five children.”
K'Oyugi says Kenya hopes to bring the fertility rate down to an average of three children per woman by 2030, and ultimately down to around two - the rate at which the population will stabilize.
Education, especially for women, he says, is the key.
“Of course, from the demographic and health survey data we have, girls that have gone beyond secondary education level generally give birth to fewer children by the time they complete their reproductive ages, as compared to their counterparts who never went to school. So education is very critical.”
Kenya is using public health clinics and youth-friendly programs to help educate the population about birth control and maternal care options.
But despite overall progress, disparities remain across the country's provinces.
According to a 2010 public health survey, more than 50 percent of married women in Nairobi use some form of contraception, compared to only 3 percent of married women in North Eastern province.
Even by the most conservative estimates, Kenya expects the population to grow from about 40 million today to more than 65 million by 2030.
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