In the last two centuries, the global population has skyrocketed from one billion to over seven billion, with the population increasing three times more from 1900 to 2000 than in the entire previous history of mankind (Roser, 2017). Therefore, concerns of “overpopulation” have arisen, especially in Asia, the most populated continent. Rapid population growth has lead to issues involving increased urbanization and resource use as well as damage to the environment. With Asia’s population growth predicted to continue through at least 2050 (“Asia Population 2019,” 2018), some international action has been taken to combat these concerns.
The United Nations Population Fund, established in 1969, leads the way in promoting population programs. The United Nations Population Division is tasked with collecting information on population issues such as urbanization and fertility. The Population Division compiles official population projections and assists countries in creating population policies. Both the Fund and the Division are influenced by the Programme of Action that was adopted by 179 countries at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development that recognizes reproductive and women’s rights (“International Conference on Population and Development,” 2014).
Many Asian nations recognize and utilize this Programme of Action. Numerous NGOs such as the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development and other organizations have been formed to research and address the continent’s population crisis. The most famous policy regarding population mitigation is the Chinese one child policy. The policy which began in 1980, limited families to one child each. In 2016, Chinese families were permitted to have two children. However, the one child policy has had lasting effects on population growth. China’s current birth rate remains unexpectedly low, largely due to the fact that there are less childbearing women as a result of the low birthrates of the 1990s. China’s traditional preference for male children caused female infanticide that has created a gender imbalance of around 30 million males (Neuman, 2018). South Korea and India have also utilized large-scale policies to lower birth rates and aid economic growth. Female empowerment has also played a vital role in decreasing population growth as providing women with education and family planning have proven to be two of the most effective methods in combating this issue. For example, contraceptives provided by the UN Population Fund in 2017 averted 13.5 million unintended pregnancies as well as 4.1 million unsafe abortions (“Family Planning,” 2018).
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The Republic of Turkey has gone back and forth between encouraging and discouraging fertility. Following World War I, government policy encouraged fertility but by the 1960s, the growth rate had increased to about 3% and the government shifted to limiting fertility. Currently, Turkey has a population of around 82 million and a growth rate of 1.28% (World Population Review: Turkey). This slow but steady growth rate has created concern over an aging population as 6.1 million Turkish residents are over 65 (“Turkey’s population expanding,” 2016) and fertility has been on the decline. However, Turkey’s growing economy has lead to a drastic increase in urbanization and Istanbul, the nation’s largest city, has a population density of 2,821 people per square kilometer (“Turkey’s population expanding,” 2016) . These two contrasting issues have created a divide over population control in Turkey. Despite the slower growth rate, the fertility rate in Turkey is one of the highest in Europe and the number of young people has started to continually grow (“Turkey’s Erdogan warns Muslims against birth control,” 2016). These facts have raised international concern over Turkey’s population growth if it is to remain unchecked. In the nation’s 2014 Programme Evaluation, the United Nations Population Fund stated that Turkey has a highly unmet need for family planning. Despite this report, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has maintained that family planning should not be an option for Turkish families.
Erdogan is currently focused on expanding the Turkish population and has said that in order to “multiply our descendants” no Muslim family should ever consider utilizing family planning or birth control. Islam is a very pro-family religion and Muslims regard children as gifts from God, but eight of the nine classic schools of Islam allow the use of contraceptives. Despite this, conservative Muslims like President Erdogan have continued to speak out against the use of birth control. This has made population control difficult in many Muslim nations. Erdogan has also previously described the use of contraceptives as “treason” and as a father of four himself, has continuously encouraged Turkish women to have at least three children (“Turkey’s Erdogan warns Muslims against birth control,” 2016). President Erdogan has also repeatedly compared abortion to murder despite the fact that abortion was legalized in Turkey in 1983. As a result of the president’s comments and beliefs, only 3 out of 37 state hospitals would agree to perform a non-emergency termination, despite the fact that women can legally get an abortion up until the tenth week of pregnancy (Letsch, 2015). Therefore, Turkey’s position stands very strong in the fact that family planning should not be utilized, even to control population.
It has been seen in cases such as that of South Korea that the most effective methods of population control include an emphasis on family planning and reproductive health. However, as previously stated, Turkey takes issue with any form of family planning or birth control. In creating a plan for population control in Asia, Turkey will want to adhere to their strict beliefs concerning contraception as much as possible.
Female empowerment typically comes with effective forms of population control. As a predominantly Muslim nation, women in Turkey face large religious and cultural biases in the highly patriarchal society. These cultural norms define women to the household as the caretakers of the children and the home. In addition, these biases prevent women from gaining social status. Any movement towards female empowerment within Turkey is highly frowned upon. This means that female empowerment as a form of population control is completely off the table for the Republic of Turkey. Along with the stigma against female empowerment comes the strict anti-contraceptive stigma. Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often voiced his opinions against contraceptives. He has called them “treason”, aligning with conservative interpretations of the Quran. (“Religions- Islam: Contraception”, 2009) Therefore the use of effective forms of contraceptives such as condoms, IUDs, and birth control pills as a form of population mitigation does not agree with the accepted cultural values of Turkey. Even with these cultural biases against the most effective forms of population growth control, Turkey is still willing to compromise on other forms of population management.
Despite the country’s conservative attitudes towards women and contraception, abortion is legal within the Republic of Turkey and has been since 1983. Abortion was legalized in Turkey to combat the high rate maternal deaths in the country. Turkish law states that a woman should be legally allowed to get a pregnancy terminated up until the tenth week of her pregnancy. Despite this, President Erdogan Abortion has expressed his opposition to abortion as a conservative Muslim. However, the law has not been changed and abortion remains legal in Turkey and therefore is one solution that Turkey could compromise on that could combat extreme population growth.
Another solution presented by the Delegation of Turkey is male sterilization. Depending on each nation’s growth rate, a man can be sterilized after he has had the desired amount of children for that specific country. Male sterilization is over 99% effective and is a permanent birth control solution after one procedure. (“Male Sterilization”, Office of Population Affairs, 2017) The procedure is also fairly cheap and patients are safe to go home the same day. (“Where Can I Buy a Vasectomy and How Much Does It Cost?”, Planned Parenthood) Since the male is the one getting the procedure, the cultural norm that women who are unable to carry children are “deficient”would remain in tact. Male sterilization is an underused procedure, that gets little to no publicity as a valid form of contraception. To normalize the procedure, education on the effects and process of the procedure would be provided in both developed and developing countries. The use of male sterilization over female birth control works around Turkey’s opposition to other forms of contraception while still providing the rest of the world with a form of population control.
Questions to Consider
Currently, the Republic of Turkey has a population of about 82 million and has a growth rate of 1.28% (World Population Review: Turkey). The population has been increasing steadily since the year 1960.
The Republic of Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, with over 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees and over 365,000 of other nationalities. (“Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Turkey”, 2019) The nation’s large refugee population and cooperation with international bodies such as the UNHCR to create a national asylum seeking system that complies with international standards means that the country population will continue to grow. The refugee population in Turkey will continue to increase as long as other Asian nations near Turkey continue to face internal conflict.
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