Bangladesh is to introduce "one couple, one child" norm by 2015 to curb its growing population. Well, it is taking a leaf from the Chinese book, all right, but there will be no coercion whatsoever, the government promises.
According to the government's draft policy, one-child families will have preference in state schools and will be eligible for financial grants.
With a population of about 150 million and a birth rate of about 2.7 children per woman, Bangladesh is said to be the most densely populated country in the world.
An inter-ministerial and evaluation committee named National Population Council (NPC) headed by the Prime Minister has already been formed to look into the issue in depth. The council also includes the ministers and secretaries concerned, divisional chiefs, heads of leading NGOs, population experts, sociologists and public health experts.
The first population policy was formulated in 1976, which identified the population problem as the number one national problem.
Subsequently, the fertility rate declined significantly and the nation achieved a remarkable success in family planning.
In the past three decades, use of contraceptives by married women increased from eight percent to 56 percent, according to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2007.
The draft policy, now in the final stage with the health and family welfare ministry, strongly suggests involvement of at least 20 other ministries for its implementation.
To speed up family planning activities in the country, the government has taken the initiative to formulate the policy focusing on one child per family instead of current average of 2.7, said Health and Family Welfare Minister AFM Ruhal Haque.
He added, "Overpopulation is a burden for the country. If we fail to achieve our target to reduce the present birth rate, it will soon be difficult to meet the basic demands of people. We may even fail to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by its targeted period of 2015."
The Director General of the Directorate of Family Planning Mohammad Abdul Qayyum told the Chinese news agency Xinhua, "The Chinese policy influenced us in framing our policy though we are not making it mandatory." He said that the government plans to promote a "No more than two children, one is best".
"We are eager to develop relationship with Chinese population planning authorities for training our men, using modern contraceptive and other related matters," Qayyum added.
The policy will also encourage every fertile woman to give birth to only one girl child during her total reproduction age. As the people in the country take several children desiring sons, this move may help stop the population boom.
"We have already completed consultation meetings with the divisional family planning employees and other stakeholders on the draft policy," Qayyum told The Daily Star.
"After holding detailed discussions and consulting recommendations of experts and physicians, we'll finalise the policy to make the programme a success."
The education ministry is likely to include the family planning issues in the academic curriculum, the agriculture ministry may use their field workers to launch campaigns for small families of the farmers, while the information ministry would direct all television and print media to broadcast and publish special reports on population.
Since Bangladesh is a predominantly Islamic country and the fundamentalists are kept at bay only with great difficulty, it is not clear how successfully initiative could be. For its part the government is hoping to get religious leaders on board.