Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Birthrates Help Keep Filipinos in Poverty

By Blaine Harden

From the Washington Post:

MANILA -- Maria Susana Espinoza wanted only two children. But it was not until after the birth of her fourth child in six years that she learned any details about birth control.

"I knew it existed, but I didn't know how it works," said Espinoza, who lives with her husband and children in a squatter's hut in a vast, stinking garbage dump by Manila Bay. She and her family belong to the fastest-growing segment of the Philippine population: very poor people with large families.

There are many reasons why this country is poor, including feudal patterns of land ownership and corrupt government. But there is a compelling link between family size and poverty. It increases in lock step with the number of children, as nutrition, health, education and job prospects all decline, government statistics and many studies show.

Birth and poverty rates here are among the highest in Asia. And the Philippines, where four out of five of the country's 91 million people are Roman Catholic, also stands out in Asia for its government's rejection of modern contraception as part of family planning. Acceding to Catholic doctrine, the government for the past five years has supported only what it calls "natural" family planning.

No national government funds can be used to buy contraceptives for the poor, although anyone who can afford them is permitted to buy them. Local governments can also buy and distribute contraceptives, but many lack the money.

Distribution of donated contraceptives in the government's nationwide network of clinics ends this year, as does a contraception-commodities program paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development. For years it has supplied most of the condoms, pills and intrauterine devices used by poor Filipinos.

"Family planning helps reduce poverty," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a 2003 speech that detailed her approach to birth control. But she said then and has since insisted that the government would support only family planning methods acceptable to the Catholic Church.

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