Report Highlights Hardship and Family Planning Needs
By Nyein Nyein 29 September 2016
Married women in Burma give birth to five children on average and detailed findings of the country’s 2014 census highlight the lack of education, need for family planning, and the continued hardship that many women within the country face.
The Thematic Report on Fertility and Nuptiality, published based on data from 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census, showed that Burma’s fertility rate was 2.5 children per woman—on par with Asean averages—but that the number largely fluctuated on state and regional levels. Married women in Chin State, one of the poorest regions in Burma, gave birth to nine children on average, compared to four in the commercial capital Rangoon.
“The report uncovers the hardship of parents who struggle to care for large families. It reveals the vulnerability of women who cannot access the contraceptives they want. Poor and uneducated women in remote areas carry the heaviest burden. The findings highlight the need for better family planning options, and for investment in girls’ secondary education,” says Janet E. Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.”
Ethnic Chin human rights activist Cheery Zahau said that on the ground, the Chin State population seems to have remained the same since 1995, because despite having greater numbers of children, many of them die at a young age.
She said that traditionally, women gave birth to up to 10-12 children, in order to work on farms and help support families.
“But that has changed now,” Cheery Zahau said, “because if women have that many children, they cannot send them to school.”
Families now have fewer children, and fertility rates have dropped in the area since the early 1990s.
The UNFPA, which provided support to the ministry for the study, said fertility rates were strongly influenced by geographical and socioeconomic factors, including women’s education levels.
The UN agency also highlighted that births by very young women were of concern, not least because they tended to have adverse health consequences for both mother and child.
The adolescent fertility rate was 33 births annually per 1,000 women aged 15-19, with regional highs in Shan and Chin states.
A UNFPA spokesperson told The Irrawaddy on Thursday, “Young people in particular are vulnerable to unintended pregnancy but often face barriers related to taboos and stigma when it comes to accessing reproductive health information and contraceptives. They need knowledge to make informed decisions about their sexuality and health.”
The UNFPA also supports the government in implementing a nationwide logistics system to help get family planning supplies to people who need them.
Despite the high fertility rate of married women, about 12 percent of women remain unmarried by the age of 50.
Burma has the second highest rate in the region of women who never marry, just behind Singapore’s 13 percent. Burma’s figure is four times more than in Laos, and more than twice and high as in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Dr. Khine Khine Soe, the director of the Population Department under the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, said at the launch of the report on Tuesday in Naypyidaw, “We now face the question of how to address the issue of single women.”
The Ministry said on Tuesday that the country was in need of a population policy, which would set a target nationwide population, in response to a decline in fertility rate and an increase in the number of unmarried women.
If the government wants to entice women to get married or have children, it needs to create incentives for working mothers, according to gender rights activists.
Cheery Zahau agreed and said that providing child care centers for working mothers—using Norway and Denmark as examples—was necessary.
She added that it is not only Burma, but also Japan, Korea and Singapore, where the number of single adults is increasing, raising concern over future workforces in these countries.
“Our country is different than other Asian countries where nuptials are falling because of economics or geography. Many women here choose to remain unmarried because of the social pressure regarding obliging family needs,” she said.
Different approaches are needed to understand why these women choose not to get married or have children, she added.
Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report.