Cambodia’s population growth rate has declined by nearly one-third since 1998, according to a new survey released by the government Thursday, a change that some applauded as a gain for family planning efforts and others decried as disappointingly slow.
Cambodia’s population has grown at an annual rate of 1.8 percent since 1998 to a projected total of 13.6 million in 2004, according to the Cambodia Inter-Censal Population Survey 2004 general report, an update of the 1998 census. The population was 11.4 million in 1998, with a recorded annual growth rate of 2.5 percent.
The current rate is also far lower than the 2.9 percent estimated rate projected for the five years following the last census, said Hang Lina, deputy secretary-general of the National Institute for Statistics.
“The decreased in population growth is because of birth spacing and people enjoying small families,” she said Thursday.
Following the release of the 1998 national census—the first conducted in Cambodia since 1962—officials warned that a sharp increase in birth control use would be needed to control a projected spike in population growth in coming years.
Some officials greeted the news of the apparent slowdown as a sign that more couples are choosing to have fewer children.
“Usually, when population growth goes down, it means people are becoming more optimistic. Mothers are more certain their children will live” and therefore have fewer babies, said Mark Thomas, communications director for the UN Children’s Fund, which funded the survey in part.
Yet with contraceptive use only at 21 percent for the general population, prospects for serious population control remain dim, said Koum Kanal, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Center.
“I don’t believe that 20 percent of the population [using birth control] can decline the population. That’s crazy,” he said Thursday.
Though contraceptive use has increased slightly in the last five year—19 percent of couples used it in 2000, he said—the number of people of reproductive age has grown as well.
Fifty percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 49, according to the CIPS survey, with another 38.8 percent under the age of 15.
The survey also showed that although more children are going to school, girls still lag behind their male peers in overall enrollment. This year, 62.8 percent of males aged 7 to 24 are enrolled in some type of school, compared with only 55.3 percent of females in the same age group.
Girls who are educated tend to marry later and have fewer children, Thomas said, making equal access to education a key step in reducing population growth.