Thursday, November 03, 2011

#RHbill and overpopulation: The Hysterical Wrestling Match Between Perception and Reality

There are no guarantees that the RH bill will stop or even significantly curb population growth.

What RH bill twitter advocates consistently ignore is that the estimated number of births each year is just part of the equation that leads to population growth. The other part of the equation of population growth is the number of deaths every year.

What causes a population to balloon is not simply more births, but in very simple terms, more births and less deaths.

Despite the high incidence of poverty in the Philippines, the number of children surviving and reaching sexual maturity has been increasing over the past three decades. This factor coupled with an increase in life expectancy has led to the growth of our population.

So even with fewer births every year, we can expect our population to continue growing and continue to have a huge population if we continue to have fewer deaths and more people living longer lives.

The limp-wristed, loose hipped hysteria surrounding the seven billionth child being supposedly born a few days ago is somewhat funny when viewed with this fact in mind.  Especially when you consider that the child is not literally the seven billionth person to be born.

The hysteria is even funnier when it is put forward as a key justification for passing the RH bill.  The current version of the RH bill, it is claimed, will curb population growth and solve the problem of over population.

In my mind, to even begin thinking of slowing down the population growth of any nation, you'd have to figure out how many births a year would be required to maintain the current population level.

Closer Look at a Seems like a State Prescribed Two Child Policy.

The closest that HB 4244 has gotten to stating how many births a year would be ideal is in a rather confused section that says government will encourage couples to have just two children, but will not prevent them from having more than two.

To wit, Section 20 of HB4244 States:
"The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size. Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children."
Apart from being neither here nor there as far as stating an actual policy on the ideal number of children or putting out basis for saying that two is an ideal family size, I wonder if two children per couple will actually lead to slowdown or stop population growth.

The current birth rate is at 25 per 1,000 and infant mortality rate is at 19 per 1,000. I'm not an expert in demographics, but this seems to suggest that we have a net birth rate of 6 per 1,000.

Guess what? The current death rate is at 5 per 1,000!

To have a slower growth rate, with my simple understanding, perhaps, would require decreasing the birthrate by just 1 per 1,000 a year or at a current population of 94 million, that's around 94,000.

The question is, does the confused 'two child policy' of HB 4244 represent a lower or higher birthrate?

If we were to look at the total estimated population of Filipino males and females between age 15 to 64, we have 31 million potential couples. If each of them got it on and made a baby each, you'd actually have 31 million babies a year!

The current gross birthrate is 25 per 1,000 or about 2.3 million per year!

Anyway, perhaps rather than state it as two children per couple, it should be stricken out or replaced with a formula for ascertaining an ideal population size for the country. I guess the math needed to propose such a formula won't be impossible to create.

Higher population of women than men leads to potentially higher population growth

Another thing to consider here is that the ratio of women and men in a population. It's a pretty well known fact that in order to increase population size, you need to have more women than men.

Consider a situation wherein you have 5 men and one woman, the resulting population growth would be one new birth a year. Conversely, a situation where in there is one man and five women, the resulting population growth would be 5 births per year.

Currently, the ratio of Filipino men and women is 1:1 within the 15 to 64 age range.

HB4244 and it's chief method for curbing population growth

The chief method proposed by RH bill advocates as a means of curbing population growth is simply to make Artificial Family Planning available for free to everyone and having family planning information available every where.

This basically assumes that if people are informed and they have the tools at their disposal to act on that information, they will act in the expected manner.

Even casual observation will tell you that most people ignore good advice.

Of course, it's just too bad that not enough people ignore NO PEDESTRIAN CROSSING signs.

The basic fall back argument that RH Bill proponents use is to show "data" that in countries where "contraception" is given freely, the population growth rate goes down.

The problem with this is that we're basically left to "trust" the notion that availability will lead to people using the contraception. That's almost like saying that the availability of a treadmill will make we want to run on it.

In lieu of any measure of certainty indicating that X percentage of fertile women will use contraceptives, RH bill proponents have presented surveys which they claim show a lot of women would use contraception if it were available.

Anyway, as far as surveys go, almost all of them have a funny way of misrepresenting reality or even the perception of reality.  More so if the survey results are released by an interested party.  More often than not, the problem with surveys is how data is interpreted as much as how the data is gathered.

If at all it is possible to have a completely objective survey, then the results from different survey organizations would more or less match each other.  I'll gather examples of this happening with regard to population issues, but for now, let's just say that in general, one survey can contradict another.

This is the reason why I tend to disregard surveys when they presented as empirical data.  This is so especially when the matter being surveyed belongs to.the scope of inner realities -- thoughts, desires, feelings, etecetera.

Moreover, surveys can actually be dead wrong.  During the 2010 elections, we had Presidential surveys left and right, one claiming one candidate as the survey leader and another making a completely different claim.

If surveys where really accurate or could be presented accurately by disinterested parties, then probably Mar Roxas would have been Vice President and Manny Villar would have been second, not third runner up.

Coming fresh from this experience last year, I guess it's just right to entertain a healthy bit of skepticism when it comes to surveys.

Perhaps, the only way you can really ascertain whether a substantial number of women will actually use contraceptives if it were freely available is to do a poll that asks all women to respond. This is kind of like holding an election of sorts and with RH.advocates squealing just how important RH is, i guess the expense could be justified. Thing is, you could probably ask every congressman to assign a portion of their pdaf to poll their constituents.

Till then, in my view, surveys are hardly substitutes for empirical data.

RH bill proponents also say that every teen age pregnancy is an unwanted pregnancy.

I have a problem with the term "unwanted pregnancy".

Just consider the problems of ascertaining deliberate intent in a society that basically that practices the "come what may attitude" or "bahala na" attitude.

In a country of people who believes in praying to God while forgetting to steer clear from the rocks, the product of hindsight can find itself in surveys. 

So, the woman who two years ago decided to have sex and is now experiencing the hardship of raising a child will probably have some reason to say that the pregnancy was unwanted. Even during pregnancy, there will be lingering doubts about whether the pregnancy is actually wanted and this is tied up with a lot of issues of uncertainty.

So, if the intent is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, you'd probably have to figure out at what point does a pregnancy actually become wanted or if it could be true that almost all pregnancies happen without intent at all.

Perhaps, the only way that an unwanted pregnancy could really be unwanted is when a woman is raped. 

Then again, perhaps the better term is 'unplanned' pregnancy, but even this term runs into problems.

The thing is most pregnancies can be unplanned in the sense that it really just happens as a consequence of frequently engaging in sex.

To apply the term planned pregnancy, perhaps, one would have to consider the case of couples who have problems getting on the family way. 

This is when couples sometimes undergo costly treatments just to increase the chances of getting pregnant. The treatment sometimes involves regimented coitus, scheduling.the sexual encounter when the woman is most fertile and the man has a sufficient stock of sperm. It can also mean being given drugs to enhance a woman's ovulation process.

So, being outside this definition, perhaps, most pregnancies could be described as unplanned.

Overpopulation can happen with a small population

Overpopulation can be defined as a situation wherein a group of people within a fixed geographic area cannot produce or obtain an adequate amount of resources to sustain its minimum basic needs.  Most people think that overpopulation is merely the number of people within a geographic area and so, take a look at population density alone.

Recently, the Department of Agriculture said that the country was able to locally produce and supply its rice needs.  It boldly proclaimed that the country would also be able to produce and supply it's own need for corn - a major input for poultry farms and cattle growers.

Furthermore, data from the Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Reform suggests that there are still large tracts of agricultural land that isn't being used. Some of these lands are being converted into subdivisions and industrial or commercial complexes - a desire for profit more than pressure from an actual need may be the cause for these land conversions.

So, given these facts, I'd say that the Philippines is hardly over populated.

(more later, if i feeel like it)

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