Afghanistan fights population growth with birth control

KABUL Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:56am EDT

KABUL Aug 23 (Reuters) - The Afghan government is trying to curb a booming population by promoting birth control but such efforts have been met with caution from aid groups and opposition from Islamic scholars.

The Ministry of Health warns Afghanistan's population of 30 million will double in as many years, stunting opportunities for economic growth in one of the world's poorest countries.

Despite escalating violence and a surge in civilian casualties in the NATO-led war against insurgents, the Afghan women manage to have 6.3 children on average over their lifetime, according to the United Nations.

"In countries like Afghanistan, where women are illiterate and repressed, (family planning) could be difficult," Wagma Battoor from anti-poverty organisation CARE's Kabul branch told Reuters on Tuesday.

She was referring to remarks last week by Afghan Health Minister Suraya Dalil, who said the government has launched a "multi-sectoral effort", which would include the use of contraceptives. Dalil did not go into details on what kind of birth control the government wants people to use.

Using condoms, birth control pills and other forms of contraceptives would be extremely difficult in Afghanistan, which is a conservative Muslim society.

In rural areas and the Taliban strongholds of the south and east, many women still seek permission from a male relative for most decisions, including leaving their homes.

Battoor said for contraceptives to work in Afghanistan, men must be involved.

"In addition to providing education, counselling and improving women's access to birth control supply, it is equally important to include men in the family planning discussion," she said.

But that would be difficult in the eyes of Islamic scholars.

"It is not up to us to control the reproduction of children," said Khalilullah Mohammad, a lecturer in Islamic law at Kabul University.

The relatively high success with hormone-containing birth control in wealthier Muslim countries such as Iran and Jordan prompted views that birth control for fear of poverty or to prevent conception permanently is unlawful under Islam.

"The holy Koran tells us not to kill your children... If anyone asks me advice on this new plan, I will strictly oppose it," Mohammad told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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