Population Matters

Rethinking Indonesia’s population question

Rethinking Indonesia’s population question

When the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) met earlier this year, dire warnings were issued regarding what many see as “unsustainable” population growth in Indonesia. At the current rate of growth, it is estimated that by 2035, Indonesia’s population will have surpassed 300 million. The old initiative of family planning long abandoned since the fall of President Suharto, Indonesia must decidedly formulate a new approach to counter its population boom.

The campaign for family planning under Suharto’s regime was cultural in nature, with religious and community leaders “directed” by the government to preach the benefits of limiting each family to two children. Under a government that never took no for an answer, the policy did actually work, as forces of community pressure created a suitable atmosphere for compliance. Yet, the initiative foundered along with the demise of the New Order regime. It was as if the euphoria of “freedom” brought by democracy also meant the freedom of reproduction.

Judging from the worries expressed by Muslim clerics in the past few years about the decline of the number of followers nationally due to conversion to other religions, it is safe to assume that most religious leaders would not acquiesce to any policy that may decimate the number of their congregation. The religious duty to “multiply,” along with religion-inspired sexual mores and the lack of safe sex practice among the young, are indeed an unholy trinity preventing family planning successes.

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A synergic policy package to combat unsustainable population growth should indeed be on the agenda for the new government after the elections. The package should make it financially expensive for people to have, say, more than two children, through a progressive offspring tax and the loss of welfare benefits. To ease the application of such measures, a widespread national campaign should be held to acquaint the public with the new regulations. More importantly, the Indonesian public should be given sufficient education on the history of reproduction and its effects on the planet. To have offspring should be a conscious human decision that entails responsibilities, not a God-given right that is sanctioned by religion.

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