Cairo: Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is mobilising different governmental and non-governmental agencies in a campaign designed to decrease the size of its population which reached 95 million a few months ago.
The Ministry of Health and Population unveiled this week a plan aimed at cutting down the nation’s population to 112 million from an estimated 128 million by the year 2030.
Under the plan, families are encouraged to have, at most, two children instead of the average of four.
Months ago, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which is in charge of helping poor and vulnerable Egyptians, launched a campaign entitled “Two are enough”.
“Population growth in Egypt is among the highest in the world,” Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghada Wali, told a conference on population and development in Cairo this week.
She added that about 65 per cent of Egypt’s poor belong to oversized families—some of them having up to nine children.
Around 27.8 per cent of Egypt’s 95 million citizens live under the poverty line, according to official figures.
Most of the poor are residing in underprivileged and rural areas where people believe that birth control is prohibited by Islam, the religion practiced by the majority of Egyptians.
The country’s Muslim clerics have thrown their weight behind the campaign, reaching out to 12 of Egypt’s 27 provinces, where the highest birth rates are registered.
Abbas Shuman, the deputy head of Al Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s influential centre of learning, said that family planning is permissible in Islam.
“Population increase constitutes a burden on and an obstacle to economic development,” Shuman told the conference.
Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s Grand Mufti reinforced the message.
“Having too many children leads to poverty,” added Allam, who is the country’s top Islamic Authority.
“There must be a balance between the family and the development that the state is seeking to achieve,” he added.
Last month, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi cited the increase in population as one of the country’s gravest dangers, ahead of terrorism. As part of its efforts to curb population, the government has sent a draft law to the parliament cutting number of times Egyptian women can take paid maternity leave, from three times to only two.
The draft law retains the four months of paid maternity leave as granted under the current law.Some members of parliament have suggested granting state subsidies on food to families who only have two children.
Around 70 million Egyptians benefit from a socialist era-ration system that give them access to subsidised food items including bread and cooking oil.
“Parliament will work to pass legislation offering incentives to families complying with the birth control plan,” said Ayman Abu Ela, a member of the assembly’s health commission.
These incentives, he told the conference, include tax exemptions and subsidies on school fees. conomy.
Even before learning about the latest moves, Wafa Ahmad, a 31-year-old schoolteacher, said she had already decided to have only two children.
“It was a necessary choice given the continuing rise in living costs,” the mother of two told Gulf News.
“My husband, who is an accountant, and I, can hardly meet the needs of our family with the nearly 4,000 pounds (Dh 833) we earn every month,” she added.
“Also, it has become difficult these days to find affordable schooling in good schools. Meanwhile, prices of other essential items like food and housing constantly go up. Wafa says its irresponisble to have many children, given the economic conditions in the country.
In recent months, Egyptians have been hit by a spate of price rises resulting from a raft of tough austerity measures.
These steps, which included cuts in state subsidies and the flotation of the local pound, has secured Egypt a badly needed 12-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund over three years.
For Farial Mustafa, a 49-year-old government employee, women’s education is the key to any successful demographic policy.
“When the girl is encouraged to complete her education, she will not marry at a young age and consequently her reproductive period will be reduced,” the mother of three said.
“Education helps the woman become aware of the dangers of repeated pregnancies on her health and society as a whole. When she is well-educated, the woman also works, as a way of asserting herself and helping support her family. As a result, such a woman will not have the time to have many children,” she told this Gulf News.
Some economists believe that Egypt’s population growth can be an asset if it is optimally utilised.
“More than half of Egypt’s population are youth, who are as valuable as any natural resource provided they are invested in,” Rashad Abdo, an economic expert, told Gulf News.
To this end, he called for linking education to the job market and offering facilities to people to set up development-orientated projects.
“In this way, the people will be so highly productive that Egypt will become an exporting country like China and India.”