Expecting her sixth child, Theresa Aaron, from Chikwawe Village in Ntchisi, is persuading her husband to adopt a family planning method.
“I really want to, but he does not like it,” she says.
There are many women in Malawi in her situation. The Population Reference Bureau reports that one in every four Malawian women says she does not want another child, but gets another baby because she is not using modern contraceptive method.
This fuels rapid population growth, from just four million in 1966 to about 17 million this year. With an annual population growth rate of about three percent, the United Nations projects that there will be 45 million people in the country by 2050.
To reduce population pressure on limited resources, Senior Chief Kaomba of Kasungu and his wife, Irene, are teaching couples the importance of child spacing and having fewer children.
Irene explained: “Widespread poverty in Malawi is partly caused by rapid population growth. We sensitise people to the ills of marrying young and early pregnancies.
“I have seen young families with eight or nine children largely because they married young and started having children early, and they continued doing so until later in life.”
The Kaombas have passed an order that no-one should marry before their 21st birthday, three years higher than the country’s legal marriageable age.
“Anyone who gets pregnant early is fined two goats,” she explains.
The chief’s wife decries rampant poverty, saying some parents feel relieved when someone approaches them to marry young girls.
Kaomba has offered 700 women fabrics for adhering to child spacing. Some have stopped childbearing.
Now, most people understand the importance of having children they can adequately take care of.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says family planning is central to women’s empowerment, reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development.
However, 214 million women in developing countries, including Malawi, still lack safe and effective family planning methods due to lack of information, services and support from their partners or communities.
This slows their ability to lift themselves, their families and communities out of poverty.
Although Malawi has scaled up access to modern family planning methods, there is still a high unmet need.
According to the 2015 Malawi Demographic Health Survey (MDHS), 19 percent of all married women and 22 percent for adolescents want to use contraceptives, but have no access.
The unmet need is even higher for the sexually active unmarried women, says Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) policy and advocacy officer Simeon Thodi.
BLM has a nationwide network of clinics and outreach programmes to widen access, options, and quality of modern contraceptive services for every woman in need of the services.
The outreach clinics target 600 women per stop, with special initiatives targeting the youth who constitute 70 percent of the population.
“Obviously, the country is not growing any bigger,” Thodi warns. “With the resource envelope remaining the same, the population boom exerts more pressure on the provision of social services such as health, education and security. It compromises the quality of life for individuals.
In 2012, government adopted the National Population Policy as a roadmap towards addressing development challenges fuelled by population pressure and high fertility rate.
According to MDHS, a Malawian woman is likely to have an average of four children in a lifetime—down from nine children in 1987 when the country’s population was about eight million.
Investing in modern contraception reduces unintended pregnancies, maternal deaths and unsafe abortions.
It also has the potential to accelerate progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals to make poverty history by 2015, says Thodi.
“Investment in modern contraception programmes does more than saving lives. It also saves money. For all the money invested in the provision of modern contraceptive services, much more is saved in pregnancy-related health care costs,” he argues.
Studies show that the longer a woman waits to have children, the longer she remains in school and participates in paid labour force—boosting her economic, health and social benefits in the process.
With the fertility rate of 4.4 children per woman, the country plays home to17 million people. Without modern contraception, how big would the population have been?
Bigger, certainly. However, Irene Kaomba thinks it is possible to roll back the pressure exerted by unintended pregnancies.