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Bangladesh - People

Bangladesh has a population of approximately 160 million people, more than Russia or Japan. As of 2012 Bangladesh was estimated to have a population of 161,100,000, making it the world's 8th most populous country, trailing #7 Nigeria [170,100,000 people, but ahead of #9 Russia [138,100,000 people]. The United States Census Bureau projected in 2012 that Bangladesh would have a population of 250,200,000 by the year 2050.

Bangladeshis as well as foreign observers most commonly cite overpopulation as the cause of poverty. Population growth is a cause of present poverty in Bangladesh, but is not the only cause of poverty. In 1971, Bangladesh and Pakistan each had a population of about 66 million and a 3% annual growth rate. The population of Bangladesh was 81 million in 1977 with annual increase of 3%, and the government was aiming at zero population growth. Bangladesh embarked on a family planning (FP) program. The Third Five Year Plan (1985-90) goal to reduce annual growth to 1.8% was ambitious, but even if it was achieved the population would double in a few decades. Bangladesh had a population in 1998 of about 120 million versus 140 million in Pakistan. Bangladesh had a population in 2009 of 156 million, with an annual population growth rate at that time of 1.29%.

Bangladesh Age Pyramid

The "population-as-crisis" theme of the integrated Ministry of Health and Population Control in Bangladesh produced a focus on women as child bearers and an emphasis on sterilization supported by incentives. This had contradictory consequences as women became vulnerable to a limited health service, and incentives encouraged a focus on meeting sterilization targets. Both undermine people's access to and use of primary health care services.

The government guidelines emphasized family planning as an effort integrated with other community programs. The use of adult education classes, mass media, and agricultural field workers and the training of paramedical personnel were proposed. The project members' activities involved motivating the public to delay marriages, to space births and to limit the family size to two children (average family size 6.5 children in 1981) as well as distributing contraceptives, promoting IUD and sterilization.

Analysis of recent demographic data shows that Bangladesh has a significant “youth bulge” – more than 40-50% of the Bangladeshi population is now under the age of 24, with a significant bulge centered on the cohorts aged between 15 and 24. This youth bulge provides both great opportunity and great risk. The bulge has the potential to create a “demographic dividend” in the right policy environment. The combined effect of a large working-age population supported by appropriate health, family, labor, financial and human capital policies can create sustained cycles of wealth creation.

On the down side, studies have found a strong correlation between large youth cohorts and political instability and violence. If young people – particularly young men – are uprooted, intolerant, jobless and left with few opportunities for positive engagement into the broader society, they can become a ready pool of recruits for ethnic, religious and political extremists seeking to mobilize violence.

Critical policy areas necessary to avoid conflict and positively exploit the potential demographic dividend arising from a youth bulge include: 1) education; 2) labor flexibility, trade and savings; and 3) public health and population control. Bangladesh may well be in a position to take advantage of the “demographic dividend” and use the potential dynamism and productivity of its young population to create sustainable economic growth. However, the risks of failure to successfully integrate the youth bulge are apparent as well, especially with regard to an increasing urban population. While there are limited signs of current societal strife, Bangladesh’s population structure does make it vulnerable to conflict.

Domestic violence is pervasive and spans all segments of society. Over 57% of women in the lowest wealth quintile report physical violence as do 34% in the highest wealth quintile (DHS). [U1] As a result, Bangladesh ranks 108th of 109 countries in the Gender Empowerment Measure. Acid attacks remained a serious problem. Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims--usually women--and left them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks often related to allegations of spousal infidelity. During the year 2010according to Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, at least 137 persons were attacked with acid. Of these victims, 84 of the victims were women, 32 were men, and 16 were children.

Bangladesh is noted for the ethnic homogeneity of its population. Over 98 percent of the people are Bengalis, predominantly Bangla-speaking peoples. People speaking Arabic, Persian, and Turkic languages also have contributed to the ethnic characteristics of the region. A member of the Indo-European family of languages, Bangla (sometimes called Bengali) is the official language of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis closely identify themselves with their national language. Bangla has a rich cultural heritage in literature, music, and poetry, and at least two Bengali poets are well known in the West: Rabindranath Tagore, a Hindu and a Nobel laureate; and Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Muslim known as the "voice of Bengali nationalism and independence." Bangla has been enriched by several regional dialects. The dialects of Sylhet, Chittagong, and Noakhali have been strongly marked by Arab-Persian influences. English, whose cultural influence seemed to have crested by the late 1980s, remained nonetheless an important language in Bangladesh.

Biharis, a group that included Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Muslim refugees from Bihar and other parts of northern India, numbered about 1 million in 1971 but had decreased to around 600,000 by the late 1980s. They once dominated the upper levels of Bengali society. Many also held jobs on the railroads and in heavy industry. As such they stood to lose from Bangladesh independence and sided with Pakistan during the 1971 war. Hundreds of thousands of Biharis were repatriated to Pakistan after the war.

Bangladesh's tribal population consisted of 897,828 persons, just over 1 percent of the total population, at the time of the 1981 census. They lived primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The majority of the tribal population (778,425) lived in rural settings, where many practiced shifting cultivation. Most tribal people were of SinoTibetan descent and had distinctive Mongoloid features. They differed in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the people of the rest of the country. They spoke Tibeto-Burman languages. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was Hindu 24, Buddhist 44, Christian 13, and others 19.

The four largest tribes were the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mros (or Moorangs). The tribes tended to intermingle and could be distinguished from one another more by differences in their dialect, dress, and customs than by tribal cohesion. Only the Chakmas and Marmas displayed formal tribal organization, although all groups contained distinct clans. By far the largest tribe, the Chakmas were of mixed origin but reflected more Bengali influence than any other tribe. Unlike the other tribes, the Chakmas and Marmas generally lived in the highland valleys. Most Chakmas were Buddhists, but some practiced Hinduism or animism.

The area that is now Bangladesh has a rich historical and cultural past, combining Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Mongol/Mughul, Arab, Persian, Turkic, and west European cultures. Residents of Bangladesh, about 98% of whom are ethnic Bengali and speak Bangla, are called Bangladeshis. Urdu-speaking, non-Bengali Muslims of Indian origin, and various tribal groups, mostly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, comprise the remainder.

Bangladesh proposed in March 2017 moving an influx of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar to an isolated island that only emerged from the sea 11 years ago, partially floods at high tide and disappears completely for three months during the annual monsoon season.

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