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Curbing population growth by saving babies lives

On the day the world’s 7 billionth baby is born, 20,000 children will die, mostly from easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea or pneumonia. 

We believe it’s a moral imperative to save these lives but it’s also, paradoxically, one of the best ways we can reduce worldwide population growth. 

Despite a popular perception that reducing infant mortality leads to population growth, our new report in fact shows that tackling high death rates consistently leads to lower fertility rates, smaller families and the stabilisation of national populations.

Fertility rates

Saving children’s lives in the poorest countries is therefore crucial to slowing the growth of the population, which the UN is warning could rise to 15 billion by the end of the century.

A mother living in Chad, one of the world’s poorest countries will give birth to an average of 6 children in her lifetime.

The same statistic was true of Botswana in 1982, but after long-term investment in healthcare – which has helped nearly halve child mortality in the past 10 years – the average Botswanan mother now has just 3 children. In the UK, the average is 2.

Invest to reduce

Save the Children is urging world leaders to invest urgently in healthcare, education and family planning in the world’s poorest countries in order to bring family sizes down and the population under control.

Mothers in poorer countries often choose to have more babies because they live in constant fear that some will die. In turn, this drives family sizes up and fuels what is fast-becoming a world population crisis.

Our director of policy Brendan Cox, says, “We know there is a real and urgent need to tackle the world population problem before it’s too late.”

Evidence overwhelming

“It may seem illogical that saving children’s lives is the best way of stabilising the global population, but the evidence is overwhelming.

“In the poorest countries, where parents are often petrified that their children will die and leave them to fend for themselves, it’s understandable that they would choose to have larger families.

“We must help to give them another choice. As we bring child mortality down, parents will feel more confident that most of their children will survive and have smaller families as a result.”

Globally, 7.5 million children still die before reaching their 5th birthday every year.

Most will have lived their short lives facing a daily struggle for survival in the world’s poorest countries, where sickness is rife and many families can’t even afford to see a doctor or trained healthworker.

Our report, The World at 7 Billion, shows that progress has already been made. The 7 billionth baby is more likely to reach the age of 5 than at any point in history.

In 1987, when the 5 billionth baby was born, 1 in 9 children never reached 5 years old. Today that figure is 1 in 16.

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