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Soviets Trying to Cut Birthrate in Muslim Area

January 22, 1987|Associated Press

MOSCOW — Soviet authorities said Wednesday they will try to curb the birthrate in the mostly Muslim republic of Tadzhikistan despite a longstanding nationwide campaign for bigger families.

A report by the Tass news agency said the Central Asian republic's birthrate is the country's highest, with six or more children per family the norm, creating "a demographic situation which is growing complicated."

Unequal birthrates in the Soviet Union's 15 republics are a sensitive topic and have been cited by some Western analysts as a potential source of future instability.

Ethnic groups in Central Asia and the republic of Georgia have a higher birthrate than ethnic Russians, or Slavs. Russians hold the leading positions in the Communist Party, the government and the military, but the tenacity with which the non-Russians cling to their language and other traditions has created problems that pose a potential threat to the country's unity.

The simmering resentment of Russian domination was highlighted in Kazakhstan, another Central Asian republic, in December with riots in the capital of Alma Ata. The two days of disturbances broke out after the republic's longtime party leader, a Kazakh, was replaced by an ethnic Russian brought in from the outside.

The Central Statistical Board, in year-end figures released last Saturday, said the national birthrate increased by 0.05% last year, from 19.4 newborns per 1,000 people to 19.9 per 1,000. It did not give any breakdown showing where the population growth was the greatest. The total population is now 281.7 million.

Current population figures for Tadzhikistan are not available, but in 1979 the republic had 4.6 million people. Tajiks formed the largest ethnic group--2.7 million, or about 59%. About 395,000 Russians lived in Tadzhikistan.

In the European part of the Soviet Union, many couples have just one child because of housing problems or career choices. The average Soviet woman has six abortions, according to a 1981 world population study by the United Nations. Contraceptive devices and birth control pills are in short supply.

Incentives have long been offered for larger families, and women bearing 10 children or more are named a "Hero Mother."

No Details on Complications

Tass did not provide details on what complications authorities are concerned about in Tadzhikistan, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. However, it mentioned fears of unemployment, although it said that half of the republic's population is too young to be in the labor force.

The republic's economy is chiefly cotton growing.

Tass said the national Maternity and Pediatrics Care Center has concluded that the birth of a fifth or sixth child can be harmful to the mother and the unborn child.

It appeared that no sanctions against large families were contemplated for now and that authorities will rely for now on a campaign of education and society's disapproval of large families.

"Specialists think that regulation of the birthrate can be carried out in a significant measure through educational work by medical facilities," Tass said. "The role of public opinion also is growing. It is expected that these factors will lead to a reduction of the birthrate in coming years."

Tass said that parents in Tadzhikistan with many children have benefited from government benefits and privileges "which were established in connection with the relatively low birthrate in other republics."

The statement suggested that the nationwide social benefits system for large families may be under review and could be cut back in Tadzhikistan and other areas where the birthrate is high.

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