Mixed Results Mark Asian Family Planning China and India Must Increase the Reach of Their Family-Planning Programs, Reports Say. POPULATION CRISIS

Article excerpt

FOR more than a decade now, the Western image of China has been colored by news reports of coercive measures used by the Beijing government to prevent couples from having more than one child.

But such reports have obscured a troubling demographic reality. Despite the rhetoric devoted to one-child families, average family size in rural areas is still close to three children.

Two reports issued yesterday by the Population Crisis Committee (PCC) say that unless China, and its Asian neighbor India, substantially improve their family-planning programs there will be little chance of stabilizing world population at a tolerable level.

"India and China, but especially India, will face enormous population growth over the next several decades unless they take immediate steps to improve the way they deliver family-planning services," says Sharon Camp, senior vice-president of the Washington-based group.

In its worst-case estimates, the United Nations Population Fund predicts that today's population of more than 5 billion could quadruple by the end of the next century. Whether more optimistic estimates can be met will depend to a large degree on the performance of the two Asian giants that have a combined population of 2 billion.

China launched its family-planning program in 1971, calling for delayed marriage, smaller families, and wider use of contraceptives. The results were dramatic: Contraceptive use rose while average family size dropped by more than half.

Still dissatisfied, the government initiated its controversial "one-child" campaign in 1979, using a combination of rewards and penalties to convince the reluctant.

Although family-planning efforts have been successful by developing world standards, tens of millions of rural Chinese couples still do not have access to adequate family-planning services. Those who do often have to deal with poorly trained staffs overburdened by the demands of the overly ambitious goals set by the government, according to one of the two PCC reports, "China's Family-Planning Program: Challenging the Myths. …