Cambodia’s first census since 1962 will prompt the government to develop a population policy that stresses family planning, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said at a ceremony Tuesday to mark the release of the final report.
“In the population sector, birth spacing should be encouraged,” Sar Kheng said at Chaktomuk Theater.
“Couples should be permitted to have only a desired number of children and safe motherhood should be ensured.”
The census conducted last year showed the country’s population has doubled in 36 years from 5.7 million to 11.4 million.
The annual growth rate of 2.5 percent is more than twice that of Thailand’s 1 percent, and significantly higher than Vietnam’s 1.8 percent.
Sar Kheng, addressing government officials, UN representatives and others, said that in the absence of a much-needed population policy, competing views have arisen.
“Some people believe that more population is necessary to fully utilize the land and the resources and also because [Cambodia] is situated between two countries with larger populations,” he said.
“On the other hand, there is the view that it would be difficult for agricultural production to sustain a rapid increase in population.”
The deputy prime minister, who also serves as co-minister of Interior, indicated the latter view would prevail amid census figures showing that only 29 percent of Cambodians have access to safe drinking water and 15 percent to electricity.
About one-third of adults were found to be illiterate.
Predictably, given decades of civil war and the genocidal policies of the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime, the census confirmed widespread speculation that Cambodia is suffering from a shortage of adult males.
Overall, the ratio is 93 males for every 100 females, but only 85 men to every 100 females in the 15-59 age group, and 72 to every 100 among those older than 60.
Cambodia is young, with 43 percent of the population younger than 15, according to the census.
More than 25 percent of households were found to be headed by women, while more than 10 percent of females who were married are widowed.
Referring to Cambodia’s combination of high population growth and widespread poverty, Hedi Jemai, a representative of the UN Population Fund, spoke on the “challenge in striking a balance between economic growth and population increase.”
“Cambodia has a long way to go in this regard since more than a third of the population is below the poverty line,” Jemai said.
“Poverty-related diseases are major contributors to the higher than average infant mortality rates,” he said.
“A high maternal mortality rate and widespread incidence of HIV infection coupled with poor utilization of health services and a low level of literacy are other formidable challenges facing the country.”
The UNPF, which assisted in the national census, will help the government formulate a population policy based on the results, Jemai added.
According to the report, the most populated area of the country is Kompong Cham province, while the least populated was Pailin municipality, a longtime Khmer Rouge stronghold located in Battambang province.
The census covered the entire inhabited territory of Cambodia, with the exception of a few unsecured areas in the northwest, including Anlong Veng and Samlot.
Planning Minister Chhay Than said the population of these uncounted regions were estimated to total 45,000, though he could not be specific.