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Promoting Smaller Family Size

WOMEN from Bangladesh to Brazil who watch American television programs like "Dallas" may be getting a behavioral message that amounts to more than entertainment."What these programs show is uppity women with very few children," notes Sharon Camp, senior vice president of the Population Crisis Committee, one of the leading family-planning advocacy and research groups in the United States. "Inadvertently, we are preaching a small-family norm as the successful US household which everyone should emulate," she says. Dr. Camp suggests that the impact on world cultural attitudes may be as strong as other more deliberate attempts to encourage smaller families. "The problem, of course, is that TV programs never show how Americans achieve this small family size," she says. "The characters are jumping into bed with each other all the time, never practicing contraception." Though it is now well recognized that family-planning progress is closely related to gains in health, education, and development, Camp says she is concerned that the new broad approach of agencies working together on so many fronts may allow politicians to avoid what in her view is most important: making contraceptives and information about them more widely available. Her agency is now a member of three coalitions approaching the problem from a "holistic" basis. "Despite the fact that I participate very strongly in these, this is a potential way for politicians to get off the hook on the population and reproductive-rights issue," she says. "I am very worried that if there are 101 ways to solve the world's population problem politicians will do 100 other things first." Women need both information and reliable means of modern contraception, Camp says. Quality of service can be a problem. In Brazil, for instance, many women buy locally manufactured birth-control pills over the counter without getting good information or counseling. "Many women are taking the pill wrong," she says. "While Brazil has very very high levels of pill use, it also has very high levels of abortion, which is illegal in Brazil." Nonprofit family-planning programs, she says, tend to be of higher quality but don't begin to reach the many who need subsidized service. IN Camp's view, misinformation about contraceptives and how they work is responsible for much of the continuing opposition to them. She says many longtime barriers, including the male view that using contraceptives would encourage their wives to be promiscuous, are starting to disappear. Many developing countries, she notes, have laws that ban contraceptives and abortion but are beginning to ignore them. Though the Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to family planning efforts, Camp says that Italy right in the Vatican's backyard has the smallest family size of any nation in the world and that Spain is in second place. She notes that abortion is legal in both countries. "The laws on the books are very liberal," she says. Camp says she is "fairly optimistic" that the generally expected doubling of world population - before the numbers stabilize - can actually be avoided. All it would take, she says, is the necessary political will.

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