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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY

Rome, February 27, 1998

Note: Following up on recent reports issued by demographic experts through the United Nations, to the effect that there is not "population explosion," but rather very much the opposite problem, the Pontifical Council for the Family has issued the following declaration.

 

DECLARATION ON THE DECREASE OF FERTILITY IN THE WORLD

The truth about current demographic trends cannot be denied any longer. It is increasingly evident and ever more widely acknowledged that the world is engaged in a marked demographic decline, which started around the year 1968. In 51 countries, fertility is already below replacement level. The number of deaths per year is even higher than the number of births in fifteen of these countries. It is urgent to increase the general knowledge of these trends. A true solidarity must be forged without delay, boldly facing the future and mindful of the Declaration on Human Rights whose 50th anniversary is commemorated this year.

 

BEING ATTENTIVE TO DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS

Following the mandate which it has received, the Pontifical Council for the Family closely follows the demographic trends of the different countries in the world (1). For this reason, the Council has already convened various meetings of world-renowned experts. This has permitted a closer look at circumstances proper to specific continents. In that way, trends in the Americas were the object of a Congress in Mexico City2 (April 21-23 1993). Trends in Asia and Oceania were studied in a Conference in Taipei (3) (September 18-20 1995). The variety of demographic trends in the different countries of Europe were examined in Rome4 (October 17-19 1996). At the present, The Pontifical Council for the Family is preparing a meeting which will be devoted to the demographic situation in African countries.

Meanwhile, the Pontifical Council for the Family follows with attention and interest the studies of research centers on demographic matters. Among these institutions is the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This body convened a meeting of fourteen world-renowned experts in Toronto (Canada), November 4-6 1997, in order to study the actual worldwide decline in fertility and its foreseeable consequences for various nations in the immediate future. These experts could only confirm what all demographic data has already indicated for many years, namely, that the decrease in fertility which, for some twenty years, has affected most of the industrially developed countries - Northern and Western Europe, Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand - is extending to an ever greater number of developing countries, in Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Caraibs. This has caused the fertility rate to fall below replacement level in 51 countries, which contain 44% of the world's population. One expert, commenting on the continuity of this decline since 1975 in countries which already had a low fertility rate, remarked, « Once the fertility transition begins, further declines follow invariably» (5)

 

A COMMON VOCABULARY: WIDESPREAD, SIMPLISTIC, AND ERRONEOUS

For too long, most of the discussions about population have developed a certain universal and erroneous popular vocabulary, according to which the world is viewed as a prisoner of an "exponential", even "galloping" demographic growth, which is causing an "demographic explosion" - the so-called "demographic time-bomb". The Pontifical Council for the Family, which has demonstrated in one of its publications (6) that this "popular vocabulary" really lacks all foundation, is pleased to note that, even in some agencies of the U.N., the truth regarding the demographic situation has begun to be recognized. Indeed, for thirty years, the Conferences sponsored by this Organization have provoked and nurtured unfounded fears about demography, especially in the southern countries. On this alarmist basis, different agencies of the U.N. have invested and continue to invest huge financial resources in order to compel many countries to institute malthusian policies. It has been proven that these programs, always imported from abroad, usually involve compulsory measures of fertility control. In the same way, international aid for development is regularly granted on the condition of establishing programs of population control which include forced sterilizations, or sterilizations performed without a proper informed consent. Local governments are also adopting such malthusian policies, and Non Governmental Organizations - of which the most important is the well known International Planned Parenthood Federation - are actively fostering these policies.

In the poor countries, the first victims of these programs are the innocent and helpless populations. They are systematically deceived and driven to consent to their mutilation under the false argument that it is, for them, a necessary antecedent to development.

 

DEMOGRAPHIC DECREASE AND THE AGING OF POPULATIONS

These disastrous policies stand in total contradiction to the actual demographic trends, as they are revealed in statistics and the analysis of available data. For thirty years, the rate of growth of world's population has continued to decline at a regular and significant rate. At this point, following an impressive drop in their fertility, 51 countries in the world (out of 185) are no longer able to replace their population. To be precise, these 51 countries represent 44% of the population of the world. In other words, the synthetic index of fertility in these countries, that is to say, the number of children born of each woman, is lower than 2.1. This is the minimum level of fertility needed for the replacement of the population in a country which has the optimum public health conditions.

This situation is found to be the same on almost every continent. There is a below-replacement-level fertility in America - United States, Canada, Cuba, and most of the Caribbean Islands -, in Asia - Georgia, Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea -, in Oceania - Australia -, and in almost all of the countries of Europe. On this continent, the effect of ageing on population leads to depopulation, with the number of deaths surpassing the number of births. This negative balance is occurring in thirteen countries already- including Esthonia, Lettonia, Germany, Bielorussia, Bulgary, Hungary, Russia, Spain and Italy.

Beyond the question of ageing, the most problematic question is that of demographic decline, with all the adverse consequences that such a decline can bring about. In the near future, the number of countries whose fertility rate is below replacement level will multiply. In the same way, the number of countries whose mortality rate is higher than its birth rate will increase.

Such realities, which have been familiar to demographers for a long time, still seem hidden from the media, public opinion, and those responsible for public policy decisions. They are passed over in silence at the International Conferences, as was evident, for example, during the Cairo Conference in 1994, and during the Beijing Conference in 1995.

 

COMPLEX CAUSES

The causes of this situation, which has no published antecedent, are certainly complex. J.Cl.Chesnais, of the Institut National d'Etudes DŽmographiques (Paris), has analyzed them in detail for the above-mentioned meeting of demographic experts. (7) Some of the causes are easily spotted. The wedding rate, in an environment which is unfavorable to marriage, has significantly dropped, and thus fewer people are marrying. The mean age at which women first give birth has sharply increased, and continues to do so. Labor Codes do not facilitate the desire of women to integrate harmoniously their family life and professional activity. The lack of true family policies in these countries which, nevertheless, are directly hit by the demographic decrease, explains why families cannot actually have the number of children which they would like to have: it is estimated that the difference between the number of children that European women desire and the number they really have is around 0.6 child/woman8.

J.Cl.Chesnais concludes his report about the causes of the fertility decrease by introducing a new element in demography, which has been rather neglected by demographers: the ratio between pessimism and hope experienced by populations. According to this author, a return to a higher fertility rate in those countries whose fertility is declining at the present can be expected only if there is a change in the "mood" in these countries, a shift from present pessimism to a state of mind which could be compared to that of the "baby-boom" era, during the era of post-World War Two reconstruction (9).

Apart from these causes based on living conditions and on socio-cultural changes in industrially developed countries, other factors directly link demographic decrease to the human will, and therefore to human responsability. These are the methods and policies of voluntary limitation of births. The spread of chemical contraception techniques, and often the legalization of abortion have been established while, at the same time, policies in favor of welcoming new lives have been weakened.

In recent years, mass-sterilization, already mentioned, has been added to these causes. One can recall the massive, scandalous campaigns of male and female sterilization in India in 1954 and 1976, leading to the overthrow of Mrs. Gandhi's government (10). In Brazil, 40% of the women using a fertility-control method are sterilized.

At the present moment, the media is reporting the sterilization campaign carried out last year in Peru by the services of the Public Health Department. This has provoked a worldwide reaction of indignation (11). Public health care employees (12) put "pressures" on women who were mostly illiterate and not informed about the real purpose of their "operation." (13) These procedures also resulted in a number of deaths. The Catholic Bishops of the region have demanded an explanation (14). They have been joined by a large group of congressmen who have asked that the Peruvian Congress investigate these sterilizations (which number more than 100,000) from the viewpoint of the medical and ethical conditions under which they were performed. These congressmen seek to reveal the full truth regarding violations of Human Rights carried out during this governmental campaign (15).

 

TOWARD SEVERE UNBALANCES

From these causes, which we have briefly noted, disturbing consequences result. The youth ratio in these populations decreases markedly. Consequently, we see a reversal of the age pyramid. A small population of young adults must then secure the production of the country and support the large population of older, less active people who have a greater need of health care and medical services. Within the active population, some deep imbalances are occurring between the young and the somewhat older people, as the latter try to protect their jobs while younger generations come to a reduced job market.

Nor should one forget the effect of an aging population on education. Great is the temptation, indeed, in order to provide for the economic burden of the elderly, to cut down on the money allocated for the formation of new generations. This weakening of the educational system brings in turn a considerable risk: that of losing what might be called the communal memory. The transmission of cultural, scientific, technical, artistic, moral and religious common goods becomes thereby endangered. It also needs to be pointed out that, contrary to what is often asserted, unemployment itself is aggravated by the demographic decline.

The experts also foresee some other aspects of the current trends: the increase in the mean age value of the population may markedly affect its psychological profile: the "moroseness", the lack of intellectual, economic, scientific and social dynamism and the reduced creativity - which seem already at work in some "aged" countries - would only express the structure of the demographic pyramid of these countries.

Meanwhile, the ratio of the elderly who hold positions of responsibility in society increases. Under these conditions, in order to secure the healthy functioning of various social insurance programs (pensions, life insurances, health care insurances, welfare system) the temptation becomes great to resort to euthanasia. It is well known that euthanasia is already performed in various European countries.

Among the most obvious effects of demographic decline, we have to mention the violent imbalances, already foreseeable, between countries whose demographic age compositions are widely different. If, for example, we compare the age pyramid in countries such as France, Spain, and Italy on the one hand, with countries like Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey on the other hand, we are impressed by the fact that they are precisely the reverse of one another. We can imagine the problems generated by such a contrast. Some of the difficulties that rich countries find today in effectively limiting clandestine immigration from poorer countries may be only the precursor of the problems which lie ahead.

It is urgent that public opinion and those responsible for public policy be informed of these trends. It is no less urgent to reject the fallacious data, ideological sophisms, and even fabricated statistics that are invoked in presentations on these themes. In the field of demography, as in other fields of knowledge, the truth cannot be concealed forever. One cannot but rejoice to see that this truth is becoming more and more evident, as the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs did not hesitate to call for this meeting of experts on the theme of the "below-replacement fertility". There is no reason not to reject the inaccuracies and lies which have been too often exploited in order to "justify" progammes and policies totally incompatible with the respect due to fundamental human rights.

 

CELEBRATING MAN AND HIS RIGHTS

In this regard, the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reminder to the world. To celebrate these rights is to celebrate man. This moment provides a unique opportunity for the human community to strengthen the respect due to the essential values to which it has subscribed, and on which it has committed itself to build its future. These values must be safeguarded from all compromise on the part of States, international organizations, private groups or individuals. These rights are identified as follows: the right to life, the right to physical and psychological integrity, and the equal dignity of all human beings (cf.article 1).

The year 1998 offers to all people and nations the occasion to assert again with enthusiasm their unreserved approval of the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948.

Here, great vigilance is needed. The faithfulness to the Declaration implies the exclusion of all efforts which seek, under the guise of so-called "new rights", to include abortion (cf.article 3), to leave physical integrity unprotected (ibid.), or to undermine the heterosexual, monogamous family (cf.article 16). Some are currently striving for these harmful goals, seeking to deprive some human beings of their fundamental rights, and to impose upon the weakest new forms of oppression (cf.articles 4 and 5). The lies which undergird these efforts inevitably lead to violence and barbarity and introduce the "culture of death" (16).

As Pope John Paul II has declared, "Human rights transcend every constitutional order". These rights are inherent in each man. They do not result from a consensus which is open to negotiation depending on the forces or self-interests that may be present. The very existence of these rights, recognized and solemnly declared in 1948, does not depend on the relative quality of the formulations which exist in Constitutions and laws (cf article 2,2). Every Constitution, every law, which would pretend to limit the possession of these declared Rights, or to modify their meaning, should be immediately denounced as discriminatory and, as suggested by the Preamble of the Declaration, as suspect of totalitarian ferments.

It is on this common reference to values, defended at the price of so many tears, that the fabric of the nations can be restored, and that a city of the World, open to the "culture of life" can be built. This ambitious project is not out of reach, but the solidarity between peoples, which is both its nourishment and its fruit, supposes, as a preliminary condition, that the solidarity between generations be affirmed.

As a consequence, the Pontifical Council for the Family invites all people of good will, and especially Christian associations, to do thier part in making the truth regarding current demographic trends widely known. It invites them to condemn with courage the malthusian programs which remain totally unjustified and completely in violation of Human Rights.

 

Notes

1 Cf. Conseil Pontifical pour la Famille, Evolutions dŽmographiques. Dimensions Ethiques et Pastorales, Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994, ISBN 88-209-1991-5.

2 Cuestiones Demogr‡ficas en AmŽrica Latina en perspectiva del a–o internacional de la familia 1994, MŽxico, Abril de 1993, Ediciones PROVIVE, ISBN 980-6256-04-2

3 International Conference on Demography and the Family in Asia and Oceania, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C., 18-20 September 1995, TRhe Franciscan Gabriel Printing co, LTD, December 1996, ISBN 957-98831-1-4

4 Familia et Vita, Anno II, nº1, 1997, pp.3-137

5 Expert Group Meeting on Below-Replacement Fertility, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, UN/POP/BRF/BP/1997/1, p.11.

6 Cf.note 1

7 J-Cl.Chesnais, Determinants of Below-Replacement Fertility, Expert Group Meeting on Below-replacement Fertility, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, New York, 4-6 November 1997,

UN/POP/BRF/BP/1997/2, pp.3-17.

8 J-Cl.Chesnais, Determinants of Below-Replacement Fertility, p.12

9 "The second half of this century experienced the decline of puritanism and the victory of materialism (hedonism, cult of consumption, American way of life), The coming century could stress the limits of this model....The trivial interpretation of the baby-boom as a response to the economic growth does not hold, The real crucial change was the change in the state of mind, from mourning to hope. How is it possible to imagine such an inversion of the historical trend without a big shock?". J-Cl.Chesnais, Determinants of Below-Replacement Fertility, pp.13-14.

10 The consent of the women to the surgical sterilizations - operated in conditions beyond all hygiene - was obtained with the counterpart of a gift of food. The number of such "voluntary" sterilizations declined sharply in the year following the fall of Mrs Gandhi government. J.H. Leavesley, Update on sterilization, Family planning Information Service, vol.1, nº5, 1980.

11 As indicated by the french newspaper "Le Monde", the accusations, in this country, against population politics were not new, but "as they were coming, up to now, from the Catholic Church, public opinion was not so upset, attributing them to the traditionnal opposition of the Church to contraception. Today, however, it is from the third national congress of country and indigenous women that protestations are springing, and they are reiterated by the country-men federation, the women popular organizations, feminists and congressmen from the opposition"

. N.Bonnet, La campagne de stŽrilisation au PŽrou provoque de nombreuses critiques. L'existence de pressions exercŽes sur les femmes a ŽtŽ dŽnoncŽe par un journal et plusieurs organisations et reconnue par le vice-ministre de la santŽ, Le Monde, Vendredi 2 janvier 1998, p.3

12 As said by the american expert Richard Clinton: "Primary Health Care have monthly quotas to respect"...This explains why, near the end of each month, the employees of the Public Health Department, under the fear of losing their jobs, were so eager to obtain from the quechua women that they go to the "primary health care" in order to "get there a vaccination for their baby and a small, painless and free little operation for themselves"

N.Bonnet, La campagne de stŽrilisation...

13 The newspaper El Comercio, in order to clarify the argument, has carried out a large inquiry on these sterilizations, in the poorest parts of the country, and has brought back testimonies which confirm that, in exchange of food and care for their younger children, some women have submitted themselves to tubal ligation. The newspaper explains that the State is charged for the surgery but do not accept to endorse the responsability for complications or deaths when this surgery turns out badly.

N.Bonnet, La campagne de stŽrilisation au PŽrou....

14 Joaqu’n Dez Esteban, La campa–a de control de la natalidad se cobra cinco v’ctimas, Palabra, 1/2/1998, p.22.

15 ibid.

16 Jean Paul II, Encyclique Centesimus Annus, 1991, nº39.

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