CAIRO — In an effort to stem population growth, the Egyptian government plans to pay 1,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly $32) annually to married women who have two children or less, under a protocol that was signed this month between the Finance and Planning and Economic Development ministries.
The cash will be disbursed under an incentive program initiated by the government to reduce the fertility rate for women ages 21 to 45.
Each woman with two children or less will get the accumulated amount when she turns 45 based on her age when she joins the program. The woman, however, will lose her right to claim any amount if she gives birth to a third child.
The incentive program is part of the National Project for Development of the Egyptian Family, which aims to tackle the overpopulation by improving demographic characteristics.
Planning Minister Hala al-Saeed said on the sidelines of the signing ceremony that the program aims to slow down the population growth and consequently improve the living conditions of Egyptian citizens.
A country of over 104 million, Egypt is the most populous nation in the Arab world and the third-largest in Africa, according to the state statistics agency, CAPMAS.
According to a study prepared by the United Nations Population Fund, the fertility rate per woman in Egypt was 5.6 births in the 1970s before it dropped to 3 births in 2008, thanks to government efforts to curb population growth. The rate, however, rose again to 3.5 births in 2014 in the wake of political unrest that followed the uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, before it declined again to 2.8 births in 2022.
A 2014 study by the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey showed that around 59% of married women in Egypt were using contraceptives. This percentage rose to 66% in 2021.
In 2022, Egypt's population rose by 1.6 million, according to CAPMAS. The agency estimates that the country’s population will reach 192 million by 2052 if current growth rates continue. However, it says this projection could be reduced to 143 million if state efforts to reduce fertility rates are intensified.
Adel Amer, head of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Studies, said the growing population puts heavy pressure on the country's economic resources.
“Egypt’s economic resources are sufficient for only half of the country’s current population,” he told Al-Monitor. “This forces the Egyptian government to import around 75% of its needs to provide the necessities of the growing population.”
Amer believes that the new incentive program “will encourage many families to curb births and consequently reduce population growth.”
The Egyptian government estimates that it will need to double its spending on infrastructure and development projects over the coming 30 years to accommodate the expected growth.
Last year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned that the soaring birth rates were wasting all gains of economic development. “We need 16 trillion pounds [$518 billion] per year to spend on an Egypt with 100 million citizens and would need to double this figure to spend on an Egypt with 195 million,” he said at the inauguration of a number of health projects in the country in February 2021.
According to the World Bank, reducing Egypt’s fertility rate from 2.8 births per woman to 2.1 would save the country around 569 billion pounds ($18.4 billion) in gross domestic product between 2020 and 2030, and 26 billion pounds ($841 million) in savings in the health, housing and education sectors.
Saeed Sadek, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, is critical of the government program to curb population growth.
“The amount of 1,000 pounds offered by the government is very small and will do nothing to encourage people to curb births,” he told Al-Monitor over the phone.
He said the government tends to offer only incentives, but forgets about enforcing fines to pressure people to curb births.
“The main responsibility of any government is to maintain social peace. Although the government has the tools to apply fines on families who refuse to abide by the two-child policy and use these fines to build schools, roads and hospitals, it prefers to act like a preacher,” he noted.
“Families tend to give birth to more children in order to put them to work to generate income for the family,” Sadek added. “Educating women and improving their conditions will also help reduce the fertility rate and consequently reduce population growth.”