Since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has seen a birth explosion. Now with 160 million people, it has the world’s eighth largest population. Squeezed into a landmass of just 147,570 square kilometers, it is also one of the most densely populated. Unsurprisingly, this population boom has given rise to a raft of social problems: poverty, illiteracy, food crises, unemployment and corruption. Yet still it continues to add two million people a year. However, there are signs that the trend is turning downwards and conditions are improving. While the rate of infant mortality has dropped dramatically, the number of pregnant women receiving antenatal care has risen steadily, to 52 percent in 2007, although few of them receive the recommended four visits. Between the 1970’s and 2007, the average number of children per mother has fallen from 6.3 to 2.7, which is approaching the government’s optimum target of two children per mother. Achieving this target would clearly call for some form of population control and the Catholic Church has been doing what it can to help. Caritas, the Church’s social arm, has been working since 1976 to promote natural family planning, or NFP as it is widely known. “We’ve promoted the ovulation method ever since we started working,” says Maya D’Rozario, director of the Caritas Community Health and Natural Family Planning project. “We’ve been following Catholic teachings in doing so, as the Church doesn’t support artificial methods,” she adds. “There is much talk about the natural environment nowadays. But no one speaks out against the artificial birth control methods that damage the physical environment every day,” Rozario says. Hers is the only organization in Bangladesh that promotes natural birth control methods. Every year, Caritas field workers in various regional areas train at least 4,000 couples in NFP. The method has received countless testimonials from Christians and non-Christians alike who have benefited from it. “I learned this method before marriage and followed it since then. The ovulation method is the best birth control,” says Mousumi Mondol, 29, a Catholic housewife from Dhaka. In her experience, NFP has none of the side effects like obesity, which may accompany some artificial methods. “I believe that by following NFP, the population of the country can be controlled,” she says, Paulina Tudu, 28, a tribal Santal Catholic recalls, “after having two children we decided not to have any more. I took pills but they made me sick. I was released from suffering when we started following NFP.” Rima Begum, a Muslim aged 22, says that NFP helped her to become pregnant within three months of starting to use it, which saved her from misery. “After five years of marriage we hadn’t had a child,” she says. “My in-laws wanted to force me out of the home and arrange a second marriage for my husband. Then I came to know about the ovulation method and it saved my life.”
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