Afghanistan’s rapidly growing population is starting to worry officials in Kabul. The demographic issue has the potential to become a significant source of instability in the coming decades.
Traditional respect for large families, especially sons, is deeply embedded among Afghans. Urbanization has reduced somewhat the economic need for large families, yet the practice remains widespread. At 6.6 children being born on average to every Afghan woman, Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate in Asia. Among many Muslim believers, having a large number of children is even perceived as a religious duty.
“People feel the bigger the family, the more influential you are and the greater the number of children to work and earn an income,” said Dr. Nasrat Rasa, a reproductive health consultant with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kabul.
More than three decades of strife, starting with the decade-long Soviet occupation in 1979, have helped encourage Afghans to have lots of children. “People were scared their children would be killed in the conflict and wanted to ensure some would survive,” Rasa explained.
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Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul.