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NEWS INDEPTH: Kenya’s fertility rate lowest in East Africa



Kenya has the least fertility rate in East Africa, new data by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has shown, pointing to dropping demand for children as more families embrace modern family planning methods.

The report, dubbed The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition, shows that on average a Kenyan family has 3.65 children — the least when compared to that of other countries in the region. The fertility rate is higher in rural areas, at 4.5 children, compared with urban women’s 2.8 children.

Since the 1970s, when a Kenyan woman had an average of more than eight births, family size has been shrinking, according to UNFPA.

“Today, a woman has an average of just under four births in her lifetime.

“Greater access to free or low-cost contraception and information about its use are partially credited for the reduction in fertility,” says the report on Kenya. People in Kenya prefer to have fewer children and take better care of the ones they have, according to Dan Okoro, a sexual and reproductive health specialist in the UNFPA office in Nairobi. “More couples are choosing to use family planning to prevent, delay or space pregnancies,” she says.

According to UNFPA statistics that sampled 33 sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya is followed by Rwanda with an average fertility rate of 3.95.

It is followed by Ethiopia with 3.75 while the rest of the countries have a fertility rate above four children.

In Tanzania, the average fertility rate is 4.6 while that of Uganda is 4.95. Families in rural set ups in Tanzania have a fertility rate of 5.7 children while in Uganda it is 5.9, the highest in the region.

The fertility rate for Burundi averages 4.9 children, Sudan 4.6, and 4.6 children in Eritrea.

The report shows that Kenya has made strides in the use of contraceptives. About 55 per cent of married women use a modern contraceptive method, being higher than Rwanda at 49 per cent, Uganda 31 per cent, and Tanzania 33 per cent.

“Taboos surrounding family planning are generally a thing of the past,” says Rachel Muthui, a volunteer at the Family Health Option Kenya, a UNFPA-supported youth health centre.

The findings support a 2018 research by Performance Monitoring and Accountability (PMA 2020) which shows that a higher percentage of married women in Kenya now use contraceptives.

“Young women now feel empowered and are able to make their own decisions. Family planning services are also helping teenage girls avoid pregnancy and complete their education, equipping them to get good jobs,” Ms Muthui adds.

The report further notes that in all but five East African countries the share of women who prefer not to have more than four children is larger in urban areas, except in Rwanda.

However, the mean ideal number of children for women aged 15–49 varies greatly between countries and social strata. It ranges from 3.6 in Rwanda to 9.5 in Niger.

“Women’s mean desired number of children is below four only in Kenya (3.9), Malawi (3.9) and Rwanda (3.6). Married men typically prefer more children than married women,” notes the report.

The exception is Rwanda, where women prefer an average of 3.6 children, compared with men, who prefer 3.1. In Burundi, men and women prefer the same number, 4.3. The number of children that married men prefer is highest in Chad, at 13.2.

The report links high fertility rates in rural areas to the high level of dependence on the household economy and the reproductive norms that accompany this dependence. It however notes that this dependence is reducing as formal education and success in creating wealth in the modern economy increases.

“Everywhere in the region, those who have at least a secondary education want — and have — fewer children than those with a primary education or less,” it notes adding that people with greater wealth also prefer fewer children.

“Demand for children today is also influenced by age: the younger generation generally prefers fewer children than their parents did.”