Tanzania’s president says people who use contraceptives are lazy, and outsiders who promote birth control are giving bad advice.

Sept. 14th, 2018

Recent remarks from Tanzania’s president John Magufuli indicate just how dire the situation is for women and girls under his leadership. They are also likely to set back efforts to stabilize population growth in that country, given the impact of the president’s statements on attitudes and policies.

At a rally just days ago, Mr. Magufuli said that Tanzanians can give birth to as many children as possible because of his investments in the health sector and that “Women can now give up contraceptive methods.” He indicated that “people who use birth control do so because they do not want to work hard and feed a large family,” and that outsiders who promote birth control are giving bad advice.

These statements follow remarks he made last year, when he indicated that pregnant school girls should be banned from school.

It is distressing to see such harmful misconceptions and outdated ideas continuing to be touted in Africa – which will contribute to more than half of the world’s population growth by 2050 – even as other African leaders realize the need to reduce population growth on the continent.

Almost half of Tanzania’s 53 million people live on less than $US 2 per day. The population is growing rapidly – about two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25 –  and the latest estimates put the fertility rate at 4.77 births per woman. Maternal deaths in Tanzania, with a ratio of 578 per 100 000, represent 18 percent of all deaths of women age 15-49. The president’s remarks are egregiously irresponsible and out of step with the experiences and desires of many in Tanzania, where the unmet need for contraception has remained steady since 1999 at around 22-24%.

There are countless reasons why continuing to promote large families in any area of the world is a bad idea. Earlier this year 20,000 scientists called attention to the fact that humanity’s demands through runaway consumption and rapid population growth are crippling the planet’s life-support systems. The “Second Warning” that they issued recalled the original “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” of 1992, which was endorsed by some 1700 leading scientists, including the majority of then-living Nobel laureates in science. The fact that leading scientists felt compelled to issue a second alert 25 years later reflects the inadequacy of the global response to the first warning.

The remarks by Mr. Magufuli are harmful in the extreme. Not only do they undermine and endanger women’s reproductive rights, they are also likely to increase the number of people who cannot provide adequately for their families. Rapid population growth, lack of employment opportunities and environmental collapse are strong contributing factors to many of Africa’s conflicts and to the vast numbers of people seeking a better life in an increasingly unwelcoming Europe. Other African leaders, and the world in general, should take President Magufuli to task.