Staunton, October 19 – The population of Tajikistan has grown by more than 50 percent since 1991 and is projected to rise to ten million in 2020, a reflection of Dushanbe’s inability to overcome popular resistance especially in rural areas which has left that country’s fertility rate at seven children per woman, by far the highest in the post-Soviet countries.
As a result of this growth, which a 2002 program was supposed to slow, 44 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and only seven percent are of pension age, a pattern which demographers say required enormous government spending on social needs, something Dushanbe is not able to afford (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1413629400).
And as frightening as these demographic statistics are, they may understate the problem. Dushanbe experts say that the population is growing by more than the 2.5 percent annually the government says because “as a rule, parents in rural areas do not register the birth of their children until the latter enter school.”
The high growth rate of the population has outstripped the ability of the Tajik economy to absorb new workers. At present, Tajik secondary schools are graduating about 150,000 students each year, but they face daunting job prospects. According to the government, there are now seven applicants for every new job.
That reflects the fact that Tajikistan is the poorest country in the CIS and that it has relatively little agricultural land. Only seven percent of its territory is suitable for agriculture, and as a result, it has a rural population density significantly greater than in any of the other Central Asian countries.
Dushanbe, with the support of international organizations, has sought to promote family planning and a reduction in fertility rates, but while the educated urban part of the population supports such measures, “rural residents,” experts say, “consider [such measures] to be interference in their personal lives and an attack on the traditions and customs of the people.”
As a result, Tajikistan is undergoing “de-urbanization.” Since 1991, the urban share of the population has declined from 31.0 percent to 26.4 percent. Forty-six percent of the population is in agriculture, and a majority in that sector consists of women, who often see having more children as a help with farm work.
The only demographic trend the Tajik government has promoted with success is out-migration. As a result of domestic poverty and government policies, “every second working-age” Tajiks is currently “working beyond the borders of Tajikistan” – and increasingly their families are going with them.