Just about everyone agrees that a more moderate rise in the world’s population would be a good thing—much better than the exponential increase we now face.

The Baha’i teachings repeatedly call humanity towards moderation in all things. Baha’u’llah said that human civilization, “if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation,” will “bring great evil upon men:”

Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. He discerneth the truth in all things, through the guidance of Him Who is the All-Seeing. The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. Meditate on this, O people, and be not of them that wander distraught in the wilderness of error. The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities …

All other things are subject to this same principle of moderation. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 342-343.

We probably all understand that it’s in the interests of the planet and its populace to slow down our exponential growth curve, to moderate our meteoric rise in numbers. It just stands to reason that fewer people create fewer stresses on the planet’s limited resources, now being immoderately over-utilized by at least a factor of 60%:

The human ecological footprint—the impact we have on the planet through resource use and emissions—is also rising. It currently exceeds Earth’s carrying capacity by 60 percent. While the sheer volume of Earth’s natural capital may allow us to carry on as is for some time, to do so with 50 percent more people would mean that our collective ecological footprint in 2100 would exceed Earth’s carrying capacity several times over. – Paul Hanley, Eleven, p. 2.

So if you’re concerned about global overpopulation, and about our collective human ability to be moderate in our use of the Earth’s finite resources, you should definitely know about Bangladesh, and what that remarkable country has done to turn those two trends around.

First, the leaders of Bangladesh, when it achieved its independence from Pakistan in the early 1970s, recognized their population problem, concluded the country was growing much too quickly, and then asked themselves: What would happen if contraception and family planning became a universal right in our new country?

At that point, each Bangladeshi woman on average gave birth to more than six children. The country, on pace to triple its population by 2010, realized it could not sustain that kind of runaway growth. So the secular democracy in this largely Muslim country took the unusual step of making oral contraception free and distributing it widely. A few years ago, Newsweek Magazine reported the results:

In 1975, 8 percent of Bangladeshi women used contraception. By 2010, the number was over 60 percent. At the same time, educational opportunities increased: More than 90 percent of girls enrolled in primary school in 2005. Just five years earlier, female enrollment was half that number, according to The Economist. Women’s literacy hit 78 percent in 2010, compared with just 27 percent in 1981. Women who had an average of six children in the 1970s have roughly 2.2 children today. That fertility rate is well below India’s and far lower than Pakistan’s. Bangladesh is now the only developing country on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals for child and maternal health.

“This is not just a medical issue; it is a social issue as well,” the U.N.’s Wilmoth says. “The Bangladesh program did that community by community, with these women who would talk to people. It’s amazing that [the fertility rate] has fallen that low in a country so poor. It’s an example of what’s possible.” – Zoë Schlanger and Elijah Wolfson, How to Defuse the Population Bomb, Newsweek Magazine, 18 December 2014.

This is unprecedented—even in a male-dominated, predominantly conservative Muslim country like Bangladesh, the birthrate has dropped precipitously to a near-zero growth level. Simply by instituting a moderate, government-supported policy of free contraception, the Bangladeshis have started to stabilize their population, dramatically changing the future of their nation.

Could we do the same with the entire world? The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes!”:

In 2012, the estimated number of unintended pregnancies was 80 million (63 million in the developing world). World population growth? Also 80 million. In other words, if women all over the world had the ability to prevent the pregnancies they don’t want, the world’s population would stabilize.

When women can have fewer children further apart, the effect on their lives is dramatic and immediate. They have more time to pursue education and get jobs, earning money that they are more likely to invest back into their family and community than their male counterparts do. They lead healthier lives and have healthier children. The power dynamic between men and women can change too: Women with more access to resources are less frequently victims of domestic violence, according to USAID. – Ibid.

So should we give every woman the right to make her own reproductive decisions? Do women all over the world want that right? Once again, according to the United Nations, the answer is affirmative:

Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. It is also central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty.

Yet around the world, some 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods, for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities. Most of these women with an unmet demand for contraceptives live in 69 of the poorest countries on earth. – The United Nations Population Agency 2017 World Population Day statement.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

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  • 5 days ago
    Human rights are an important part of the puzzle. Developing countries, poor countries, and countries with poor human rights are all categorically overlapping with countries with high birth rates. I remeber seeing a chart showing a negative correlation between birth rate and a country's GDP.
    The world population is mostly the top 20 countries. They're 70.2% of the world. All other countries together makeup the other 29.8%.
    Sustainability in population and in all areas of life will all help to fix and prevent overpopulation and it associated issues. Sustainability and moderation are equivalent and linked. Birth control is ...part of reproductive sustainability.
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  • Linda Sue Covey
    5 days ago
    I agree with the basic tendency of this article, but suggest you look up in the Most Holy Book of Laws what Bahaullah has to say about using contraceptives. Also research in The Seat of His Throne for generally-unknown and fascinating bits of info on future sexual practices, to marry / or not, and so forth.
  • Melanie Black
    5 days ago
    I am impressed to hear that the gov't of Bangladesh made such a difference in the lives of its female citizens. What a positive model for other developing countries to follow. In addition to grappling with the population issue, I believe that our Western culture also needs to come to terms with how much of the world's resources we use. The rest of the world gets by on a pittance compared to us. I think it's worth noting that as the future comes closer, solutions will need to be found in how we make our lives simpler and more ...economical. Our rampant materialism is consuming us and the rest of the world rather than the other way around. It is essential for people to find hope in spiritual paths that feed their hearts and minds.
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  • 5 days ago
    Another way to look at the birth rate is that it drops as women access more equal rights. This is totally proportional, as we see in your article: birth control AND literacy gains! This is a synergistic spiral upwards: women spend a little less time having so many children, and women get the rights to have something else to do with their lives, developing their talents and making the world better for everyone!