Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you all today to launch the First National Population Policy. This event is another positive achievement among the many that the Royal Government has attained, in our drive toward development and poverty reduction.
On behalf of the Royal Government and People of Cambodia, I would like to express my deepest thanks to concerned ministries and institutions, national and international organizations, civil society and private sector for support and contribution to this policy. May I also thank, in particular, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for providing much assistance to Cambodia in support to the population-related activities, including the “1998 Population Census” and the “2000 Demographic and Health Survey“. The outputs of these efforts are valuable statistical documents that facilitate not only the formulation of our National Population Policy, but our work in all other fields of development and governance as well.
We have already learned a great deal from the lessons and experiences accumulated so far over the past long decade of implementing our plans and strategies. I believe that the Population Policy that we launch today has resulted from our experience and thereby be of great significance and contribution to the promotion of a sustainable reform and development process in Cambodia. The new population policy will also help strengthen the foundation for the take-off of the national economy and ultimately accelerate the reduction of poverty reduction among the Cambodian people.
There are many different meanings and interpretations of population issues across regions and countries. While the population issue has been raised and recognized for quite a long time, it has remained a topic of great interest and concern at all levels – international as well as local. For example, the World Conference on Population in Bucharest, Romania in 1974, focused on the most effective means of reducing population growth in developing countries. The Mexico conference of 1984 initiated discussions on abortion. More significantly, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt linked population issues to larger concerns of development in 21st Century. The Royal Government participated in the 1994 conference and was one of the 179 countries that signed the conference declaration.
Today, Cambodia has a population in excess of 13 million. This population is growing, on the average, at 2.5% per year. Relative to other countries, Cambodia’s population seems still small. Yet the rate of growth of the population is among the highest rates in Asia. The most recent medium scenarios by the UN on world population 2000-2050 indicates that Cambodia will have 14,800,000 people by 2005, 22,310,000 people by 2025 and as high as almost 30 million by 2050.
We estimate that our population will grow, on average, by an additional 320,000 people annually over the next 50 years. Moreover it should be noted that even should the growth rate be reduced by half (from 2.5% to 1.3%), the number of reproductive Cambodian women (aged between 15 – 49 years) will be gradually double over the first half of the 21st century.
The reduction, between 1990 and 2000, in the number of children born to each Cambodian woman from more than five to only four children implies that the birth spacing program, the programs to reduce infant and maternal mortality, and training courses and programs for women’s employment, and so on have gradually succeeded. Indeed, the outcomes achieved so far are still limited, requiring our further stringent efforts over the near future to face the challenges of rapid population growth. We must solve the problems by focusing our efforts and dealing with challenges one at a time. Our success will ultimately redound to the accelerated reduction of poverty among our people.
Let us remind ourselves of the results of research into the experiences of the East Asian Tigers – the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. These countries all experienced unexpectedly high rates of growth between 1960 – 1995. Analysis attributes one fifth of the growth to the reduction in population growth. In Brazil and Mexico and some other South American countries the reduction in population growth contributed about 0.7% of GDP per capita.
However, not all reductions in population growth result in such significant reductions in poverty. The positive effects arise only where reduced population growth combines with increased productivity and economic growth. In contrast, reduced population due to the outbreaks of HIV/AIDS and other diseases causes losses in human resources and thereby constrain development. Indeed, the decline in population growth in parts of Africa due to HIV/AIDS has become the most important constraint to the efforts of these countries in improving the lives of their peoples.
For Cambodia, the 2.5% annual growth rate of population is a serious challenge because agricultural production and employment generation have not been able to keep up. Moreover, high fertility rates in the circumstances of Cambodia impact adversely on the health and nutritional status of mothers and children. Furthermore, while Cambodia is rich in terms of labor, such labor is relatively less competitive in the international labor market. In fact, this human resource quality challenge is the principal constraint in our efforts to modernize industry, since the use of machines and advanced technology require much more intensive levels of training and skills.
Therefore, the Royal Government has set out and launched a broad program to encourage birth spacing – our main policy to protect the maternal and child health and reduce the pace of population growth.
In general, the Royal Government’s population policy focuses on the following key priorities:
§ Support for all couples and individual families with regard to their free and responsible decision on their desired number of children and birth spacing, and to provide access to information, education and other services to implement their decisions;
§ Moderate the birth rate and promote birth spacing;
§ Reducing morbidity and mortality among mothers and newborns;
§ Promote gender equity and human resource development;
§ Reduce the adverse impacts of population pressure on the environment and natural resources;
§ Aid and further strengthen the prevention of the HIV/AIDS epidemics; and
§ Consider population factors in all economic and social policies, plans and programs.
Moreover, the Royal Government realizes that rapid population growth adversely impacts on poverty by: (a) increasing dependency on those who earn incomes in a family, and (b) worsening unemployment and under-employment. High population growth also increases pressures on limited resources in education.
We recognize that high population growth rates generally reflect high degrees of gender inequality in society, as women’s choices in reproduction subject to the norms of obsolete traditions and practices. Indeed, infant and child mortality is closely linked with birth spacing and the ages of mothers at birth.
More broadly, rapid population growth in the rural areas has contributed to increased deforestation, soil erosion, loss of water resources and the declines in biodiversity. In the cities, rapid population growth puts pressure on the supply of water and hygiene and contributes to the deterioration of air quality. Furthermore, high population growth is linked to growing urban congestion and associated with the increasing intensity and frequency of conflicts over land use and ownership, as well as social problems such as congestion and the outbreaks of transmitted diseases and crimes.
High population growth increases the pressure on demand of public services, which is the charge on government finance. This reality increases the difficulties of macroeconomic and social management.
To deal with all of the aforementioned challenges, Cambodia is adopting and will maintain the implementation of an effective population policy that conforms to Cambodian social and cultural contexts. Women’s education and birth spacing will be emphasized. The Royal Government recognizes the importance of resolving rapid population growth, taking off from the vision of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) enunciated by the United Nations. The program also helps meet the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development. The program’s main objective is to improve the quality of life of the population.
In conclusion, let me underline that the Cambodia National Population Policy is not the work and policy of any single ministry. The National Population Policy is a mandate of most of the Ministries and offices of the Royal Government, including: the Ministries of Health; Education, Youth and Sports; Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation, Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs. These institutional linkages require close cooperation with civil society, the private sector and national and international organizations.
Once again, may I express my deepest gratitude to the UNFPA, and to all concerned government institutions who have participated in the formulation of the NPP. I urge all Cambodia’s international partners and NGOs, management and staff in all ministries and institutions, the armed forces, local authorities at all level and to all citizens, to support the successful and effective implementation of the NPP.
I wish you all, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the five gems of Buddhist blessings! I hereby declare the launching of the National Population Policy for implementation across the Kingdom of Cambodia.