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500,000 children born to underage Egyptian mothers annually

October 10, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Egyptian women hold placards during a demonstration protesting violence against women in Egypt on 22 December 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]

Some 500,000 children are born to underage mothers in Egypt every year according to an Egyptian medical official, Al-Mugtama reported yesterday.

The figures were revealed during an Egyptian Ministry of Health meeting in which officials discussed how to combat the marriage of minors, which despite being illegal, is often practiced by families, particularly in rural areas.

A member of the committee, Abdel-Hamid Attieh, told officials that early childbirth put young women at risk of malnutrition and general ill health; 71 per cent were found to have experienced serious health complications and 3 per cent of infants died within months of their birth.

Egypt is currently in the midst of a national discussion on the issue of fertility, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi pointed to high birth rates as an impediment to economic growth. In August the president called on Egyptians not to have more than three children, and warned that the growing population was a greater national challenge than terrorism.

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The country is already the most populous in the Arab world with 93 million citizens and is set to grow to 128 million by 2030 if fertility rates of 4.0 births per thousand women continue, according to government figures.

In 2016 Egypt saw the birth of 2.6 million babies, according to the country’s statistics agency CAPMAS.

This summer the government started Operation Lifeline, a strategy to reduce the birth rate to 2.4 and save the government up to $11.3 billion by 2030.

Awareness programmes have been launched across the country, including in Upper Egypt where the fertility rate is particularly high and in rural areas where many view large families as a source of economic strength. There is sometimes a resistance to birth control in households with lower levels of education, because of a belief that it is unlawful under Islam to aim to conceive a specific number of children.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar university, a 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic learning, has endorsed the ministry’s plan and clarified that family planning is not forbidden.

However, many feel the programme is undermined by current economic reforms the government is implementing, which have restricted the availability of contraceptive pills and plunged more families, in urban and rural areas, into poverty.

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