BBC: Nigeria mulls birth control policy (10)

28 October, 2018

Dear Zainab,

Thank you for your informative response. Please forgive my ignorance on Nigeria. I last visited the North briefly after internship in Zambia over 50 years ago! My concern arises from Afghanistan, where some of the young men, when frustrated at lack of earnings, especially for bride price and weddings, can probably be expected to turn to insurgency, especially when armed opposition groups pay more than the Afghan National Army. I say “probably” because to my knowledge there is no research evidence on this. Family size can be a rather sensitive subject. When I have mentioned the link with armed conflict to medical specialists in Kabul who know the situation well, they have smiled knowingly, but said little.

However, there is evidence from elsewhere that a youth bulge significantly raises the probability of civil conflict. A report of Population Action International states: “Over the past several decades, countries in which at least 60 percent of the population is younger than 30 have been more likely to experience outbreaks of conflict than countries with a more even age distribution.” (Population Action International. Why population matters to security. 2013 Research “shows that between 1970 and 2007, 80 percent of all outbreaks of civil conflict occurred in countries with very young and youthful age structures...” (ibid.). “The highest probability of civil conflict (often protracted) is associated with very young populations.” (Cincotta, R. in Population Reference Bureau, Discuss Online: Population and National Security, 2011).

Your view that Boko Haram resulted from three core 'wicked' problems of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy seems to agree with these studies from elsewhere. The first two would be related, with unemployment leading to poverty. Where illiteracy fits into your list seems rather more difficult. I have found job interviewing in Afghanistan harrowing, with many young people who believed that higher education lead to prosperity, then finding themselves unemployed. It’s also sad that “reading the word” in Paulo Friere’s words, is not more often linked with “reading the world”, that is, working out through education how to understand the world we are in.

There is much here which seems to be hidden beneath a blanket of silence. If the situation since 1994 continues that family planning has been rightly left to parents, but parents are not provided with the means for it, I fear that we may see a backlash of some governments returning to authoritarian birth control. And if governments see fall in child mortality with resulting increase of population and youth unemployment as posing increased risk of armed conflict, that too may increase risk of returning to authoritarian birth control. The link between increase of population and increased risk of armed conflict is therefore one I am not keen to put to politicians! Promoting family planning services to enable parents to space births is much safer.

Best wishes,


HIFA profile: Stewart Britten is advisor to the British NGO, HealthProm, on its project to reduce maternal and child deaths in Northern Afghanistan. He has worked for the reduction of institutionalisation of babies and small children in Russia by introduction of parent support programmes. stewart.britten AT