Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the country’s total fertility rate of 1.7, down from 2.5 in 2005 was nothing to be alarmed about.

This was in response to a question on the government’s intervention to manage change in fertility trends in the country during the first meet the press session on Friday.

Lyonchhen said the message that the fertility rate has gone down and is alarming as the country was heading towards more ageing population and a less shrinking workforce was spreading. “Please don’t be alarmed as it has not reached an alarming stage. We need not knee-jerk at this moment, we can go slow.”

Considering the death rate, Lyonchhen said that a country needs at least 2.2 to 2.3 fertility rate, little more than two to replace a couple. “Currently, the fertility rate graph is slightly tilting down and that is a natural process as the country develops, as we go towards development because of higher living standard, higher cost of health care and education.”

“I don’t think we need to come up with any strategies to increase the population,” Lyonchhen said. “Indirectly, the maternity allowance is a very good way of saying it’s okay to have babies.”

Hospital authority will go slow on permanent family planning methods like tubectomy and vasectomy and go with more on temporary family planning methods, Lyonchhen said. “We need not have a policy at a national level to increase the fertility rate.”

Family planning, Lyonchhen said is the right of a couple.  The government cannot tell them to have more than three children. “It is up to them.”

Foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that the question was asked on the population demographic point of view so the population pyramid should be considered.

“If the population pyramid is an inverted triangle like in some countries then we should be worried. Currently, ours is spindle-shaped, which means the middle age group of 15 to 45 years is the largest segment of the population,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Lyonpo said that the country might face a more ageing population and less working population 20 years from today. “But, we are going to give 20 years for this young group to have more kids by giving them economic security.”

Lyonpo said young people should be economically safe because many choose not to have babies because they cannot afford it.

“We are targeting that, and to reap the demographic dividend of this group, we have to invest now,” Lyonpo said. “Our manifesto like sonam gongphel, health and education are directed towards that. It is to invest in these demographics and make them economically stable so that they are encouraged to have more children.”

Lyonchhen said that a women’s fertility rate declines after they cross the late 20s. “25 to 29 is the most fertile age. But on an average, women don’t give birth before they are 30. After the first child, they wait for three to four years to have the second child, by the time they are in the late 30s and they are already entering high-risk maternity rate.”

Dechen Tshomo