Association Of Southeast Asian Nations: Implementing Measures Against Overpopulation

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[image: ]ASEAN countries are some of those who suffer the most from overpopulation in the world. The majority of the member states have a small landmass, like Singapore (the smallest with 714 square kilometres) or Indonesia (1,86 million square kilometres) and an elevated population, the result of many centuries of colonisation and poverty. However, in recent years, economies have been developing, leading to a diminution of family sizes, going, in some cases, down to an average of 0.86 children per family (South Korea). This rapid urbanisation and sudden change in population output leads to massive issues with overpopulation, heightened by the lack of space. Many nations are turning towards different types of solutions to reduce their overpopulation; however, the majority of these solutions are unsustainable and sometimes detrimental to the nation itself. Overpopulation is truly becoming a crucial topic for the majority of ASEAN.Figure 1: Map from Brilliant Maps; more people live within the circle than outside it

Definition of Key Terms


A population density that is detrimental to the environment, the quality of life and can even cause a population crash. It is caused, the vast majority of the time, by high birth rates, lower economic status of the nation or a high level of immigration.


Which pertains to the balance of population especially in regard to density. It can also be used in terms of the population density to landmass ratio.


The characteristics of a population of a nation, more specifically regarding markets.

LEDC (Less Economically Developed Countries):

LEDCs are difficult to define due to the fluctuations in global economies. They tend to have a higher mortality rate, a lower level of education, healthcare and construction. LEDCs have higher populations than MEDCs, due to a higher birth rate, and are often used by MEDCs to outsource labour for western projects (textile companies outsourcing their fabrication to nations like India, Indonesia or Taiwan).

MEDC (More Economically Developed Country):

MEDCs are the leaders in globalization and have the most control over global trade, finances and intervention. They tend to control much of the actions of the UN (due to a near monopoly over Security Council) and thus almost all international affairs are heavily influenced by MEDCs. They have the strongest economies and have better healthcare, education and urban systems, with often lower birth rates.

Baby boom:

A temporary marked rise in the birthrate.

General Overview

Overpopulation is caused globally by different factors, although the two largest are high birth rates and a high level on immigration (coupled with low emigration).

High birth rates are incredibly common in LEDCs and immigrants coming from LEDCs into MEDCs.

[image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'south korea population collapse']Much of ASEAN are current or former LEDCs, such as Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia, and with these nations comes the characteristics of LEDCs in the modern world. Their status means that they have a lower level of development compared to the richer nations of the world, MEDCs, and a lower industrialization than the NICs (Newly Industrialized Countries, like China or India), and therefore a lower level of education, healthcare and infrastructure. However, in the modern world of globalization in which the status of nations is relative and in constant evolution, these factors change all the time, which leads to the main issue concerning overpopulation in this specific region. Many countries in the ASEAN+ region have evolved in the last couple of decades from “Third World” countries (A term that is now no longer in use since we have an understanding of the relativity of global poverty) and with this rapid evolution come issues that were solved by the slow evolution of Western nations, notably the sudden drop in family size. As countries pursue their rapid and drastic development in recent decades, the fertility rate is seen to be dropping far swifter than any other nations on the planet, especially in LEDCs that have become MEDCs far faster than any other nation in history. As an example, take South Korea. According to an article in The Guardian (Benjamin Haas, September 2018), South Korea’s birth rate is set to fall to an all time low of 0.96, much lower than the expected global fertility rate in 2100, of two births per woman. In South Korea, one of the main issues is women marrying at an older age than in other nations, the average woman having their first child at 31.6 years of age, making it biologically difficult to have more than one child. Indeed, their number of babies born in 2017 (357,000) is far lower than the number that it was a decade ago, 493,000. This collapse in birth rates is fairly common amongst all nations in ASEAN undergoing a Figure 2: A chart explaining the fluctuations in South Korea's population from 1950

[image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'how much has japan spent on people over 65']rapid development or indeed a rapid transition from LEDC to MEDC, as are many of them. Although a lack of births could be seen as an asset for reducing the issue of overpopulation, the result is a sudden drop in the number of young people, and a bulge of elderly people who are, in many cases, unable to work and therefore contribute to the development of the nation. This swell of older citizens can be detrimental to the workforce since many are over the retirement age and are therefore either physically or mentally incapable of working for their nation and aiding their development. Individuals over 65, although some are put to work, like in Japan, tend to need funding for their pension, healthcare and other needs that they cannot pay for themselves and that are therefore coming from the state. This can effectively make it difficult for governments with ageing populations at the heart of their overpopulation issues to grow economically. For example, Japan has the oldest population in the world, with a projected ratio of over 1 in 3 individuals being over 65 by 2040. Their system for taking care of their elderly is one of the most sophisticated globally, with large international powers like the UK being told to take notes from them in order to better care for their elderly population. However, this demographic that, in many cases, cannot work, are also costing the government economic growth, according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The IMF states that, as of early 2018, Japan was set to be the slowest growing G7 economy that year. Their GDP is currently the second lowest of the G7 nations, the lowest being Italy with a GDP of 1.9 billion USD, and shrinking labor force seems to be the main cause of the issue:” The impact of ageing could potentially drag down Japan’s average annual GDP growth by 1 percentage point over the next three decades” (IMF).

Inversely, the other main factor in overpopulation in the ASEAN region is the poverty-large families circle. ASEAN is a very split region, with massive wealth divides between MEDCs, such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan, and LEDCs, such as Indonesia, Cambodia and Lao PR, and so issues faced by the former group are not identical those of the latter group. So, while MEDCs face the issue of a large swell in their elderly population, LEDCs tend to suffer from a high birth rate linked to large families. Although it is commonly thought that poverty leads to overpopulation, or vice versa, that is not entirely factual, as indeed, they influence each other. Poverty tends to induce large families as parents will want to produce as many possible bread-winners within one family, but this leads to overpopulation in many cases. Overpopulation further induces poverty in the nation as the sheer amount of people leads to a large demographic of uneducated manual labour who demand supplies and do little for the nation in terms of high-ranking jobs, which are mainly carried out by a caste of elite or wealthy families who are able to educate their children and have no need for large families. And the cycle continues. Nations in which this is especially noteworthy include Indonesia, India and Cambodia. The Philippines suffers in particular from this issue, with a notably high fertility rate. Its population amounted to roughly 100 million inhabitants in 2014 and reached 104.9 million inhabitants in 2017, with an incredibly high percentage of the population being under 15, and therefore unable to work effectively for the nation. Rosalinda Marcelino, Population Commission director for Metro Manila, told the House Committee on Population, that “…More than 50% of [Filipinos] are young and, in due time, would become parents. And even if each couple would only have two children, our population will still continue to grow in the next 50 years”. The Philippines can theoretically support a total population of 200 million inhabitants, but only if the cause of their poverty is [image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'the philippines high population']properly addressed and, ideally, solved. Indeed, the Philippines’ overpopulation trouble, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) who opposed the population equals poverty concern, is the over-concentration of their population in urban areas. They stated, “Our own government statistical office has concluded that there is no overpopulation in the Philippines but only the over-concentration of population in a number of urban centers.”. So it proves incredibly difficult to properly pinpoint the exact cause of the issue of overpopulation, and the solutions that must be introduced.Figure 3: The GDP growth in G7 nations, as published by the IMF through the Financial Times

Figure 4: The Philippines has an incredibly densely packed population, 13th highest in the world

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Major Parties Involved

China: China has the largest population in the world, with 1.386 billion people inhabiting its territory. China is well known for having a large population, much of which is concentrated in large cities to the east, like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. China attempted to solve its population boom with a one-child policy (with exceptions for ethnic minorities, rural couples and 1st children who were disabled). The policy backfired, and so they gradually relaxed the legislation until introducing the two-child policy in 2015 to combat their ageing population. However, many couples rejected the new legislation and continued having only one child.

[image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'china population']Figure 5: Population predictions comparing China and India

India: India has the second-highest population in the world and it only keeps rising. Their main issue is a lack of education among women in rural areas which tends to lead towards large families. Unlike the stark opposition between the fertility crisis in nations like Singapore and South Korea, and the baby booms in nations like Indonesia and the Philippines, India suffers from a large swell in all demographics, old and young. Its population is roughly 1.20 billion inhabitants, and even some of its regions outnumber entire countries (Uttar Pradesh has a population of 166 million compared to Russia with a population of 146.9 million).

Figure 6: India's overpopulation issues makes public transportation incredibly difficult

[image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'India overpopulation']

USA: The USA has the third-largest population on the planet after China and India, with a total of 325.7 million inhabitants, a stark contrast to the other two nations, who each have populations that exceed 1 billion. The US has one of largest landmasses that is almost entirely inhabitable (unlike Canada, Russia or Australia which all have large areas that are uninhabitable) with a strong emphasis on religion in its society, which can easily explain the high population number.

WHO: The World Health Organisation has a section dedicated to monitoring the world population and population numbers in various areas, and predicting the health impact in those areas of their population (airborne diseases, toxic gasses linked to large cities, etc.)

World Bank: The World Bank also has a section dedicated to monitoring the numbers of the population all over the globe. They specialize notably in the evolution if the population since the mid-20th century.

UN Commission on population and development: The UN commission for population and development was created in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council of the UN but was renamed in the UN Resolution 49/128 of 19 December 1994. They advise the Council on population evolution and trends and see to the proper implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development on various levels (national, regional, local) and further advise the Council.

Timeline of Key Events

  • 18th century: The Industrial Revolution leads to one of the first global baby booms, with the global population reaching an estimated 1 billion by the end of the century.
  • 1940: The world population reaches 2.3 billion people, and over the years, the time it takes to gain a billion global inhabitants reduces with each billion.
  • 3 October 1946: The Economic and Social Council creates the Population Commission to monitor the global population.
  • 1950: The global population growth begins to dramatically increase with the boost in agricultural production know as the Green Revolution
  • 1976: India begins its emergency sterilization process that would kill thousands and leave a lasting impact on future generations
  • 1980: China officially implements the one child policy as a temporary One-Generational policy to reduce their rapidly growing population, formerly encouraged by Chairman Mao as part of the great leap forward.
  • 1994: The Population Commission is officially renamed the UN Commission for Population and Development
  • November 2018: The world population reaches its highest point of 7.7 billion inhabitants, many of which are situated in South and South-East Asia (ASEAN+)

Previous attempts to resolve the issue

There have been many previous attempts to resolve overpopulation, the most notable of which was China’s one child policy. Established in 1979, the one-child policy essentially prevented families from having more than one child, although exceptions were introduced for ethnic minorities and rural families whose first child was a girl. The Chinese government claims this legislation prevented 400 million births until its repeal to a two-child policy in 2015. It is predicted that this policy will have eliminated a possible 1 billion births by 2060.However, this legislation proved, clearly, ineffective and detrimental to Chinese society as many women were forced to have unsafe abortions and/or sterilisations, and many families chose to get rid of their first-born if it turned out to be female, due to China’s patriarchal system that prioritises men. This ultimately led to a deficiency in women, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be approximately 30 million more men than women in China. Women from nearby countries, such as Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, suffered as well, often being forced into the sex industry for a female-deprived society run by men.

[image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'china one child policy']In 1975’s India Sanjay Ghandi, son of former Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, launched a dark and violent act to help lower the population levels. Encouraged by funding from the World Bank and the UN Population Fund (amongst others), they began a program of male sterilization that turned violent and forceful. Around 6.2 million men were sterilized in a year, “which was '15 times the number of people sterilised by the Nazis', according to science journalist Mara Hvistendahl” (BBC) and over two thousand men died from the process. However, this process has not stopped, and the focus has moved to women, as 4 million sterilizations were carried out between 2013-2014, although over 700 deaths have occurred between 2009 and 2012. According to the BBC article written by Soutik Biswas in 2014, it is not only India that carries out forced sterilizations and abortions, but also China during the era of the one-child policy (mainly since the 1980s) and the health affects can be disastrous to the poor women who are most often sterilized, due to the lack of affordable healthcare in many of these nations. Figure 7: Poster promoting the one child policy in China

Possible Solutions

Finding possible solutions can be difficult for overpopulation, as many solutions are either medium-term and therefore are unsustainable on a long-term basis. Nations such as Japan are turning more and more towards immigration to solve their diminishing workforce, but again, this is unsustainable on a long term, especially due to their issues based on population-land ratio. Japan’s population is already becoming unsustainable for the size of the archipelago, who’s nature forces the inhabitants to live on the coastline due to the mountain and volcano ranges in the center of the islands. The population is incredibly densely urbanised, living in massive cities filled with apartment blocks and prioritizing bureaucratic industry. Some ASEAN nations are also attempting to recruit more women into the workforce, in an endeavor to optimize their working population, but also based on the principle that working women prioritise their families less and will have fewer children. [image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour 'women workplace malaysia']Figure 8: One way for Malaysia to further develop is having women in the workplace

In order for proper economic development and the halt of large families, what truly needs to be done is the education of women, as educated women tend to have far fewer children and later in their lives. It is also likely that these women will go into the workforce and aid the nation through their actions. Another solution to prevent overpopulation is showing the importance of contraception in all its forms. Governments should propose, perhaps, publicity program, or lectures on safe, effective contraception, and the removal of high taxes on contraception. Finally, removing the stigma around abortion and proposing funding for safe and accessible abortions would also help in keeping the birth rate down.


  • Further, in depth reading can be done with the UN Population Plan of Action, providing an incredibly detailed and thorough view of the global population and solutions to this crisis (link here):
  • The Un Commission on Population and Development has various sessions, one per year, and while the topic changes, it can be interesting to look through at certain sessions that apply to this issue and see what they put in place:


  1. Casabón, Cristina. “More People Live inside This Circle than Outside of It - and Other Demographic Data You Should Know.” World Economic Forum,
  2. “China's Two-Child Policy Is Having Unintended Consequences.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 26 July 2018,
  3. Choudhury, Saheli Roy. “East Asia's Latest Worry: Aging Population.” CNBC, CNBC, 10 Dec. 2015,
  4. Hayes, Adrian C., and Zhongwei Zhao. “Population Prospects in East and Southeast Asia.” East Asia Forum, 30 Jan. 2012,
  5. Investments, Indonesia. “Indonesia Investments.” Indonesia-Investments, 18 Mar. 2016,
  6. Kweifio-Okai, Carla, and Josh Holder. “Over-Populated or under-Developed? The Real Story of Population Growth.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 June 2016,
  7. “Leveraging on ASEAN's Growing Economy to Tackle ASEAN's Ageing Population.” ERIA: Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, 1 Dec. 2017,
  8. Nair, Chandran. “Population Prospects in East and Southeast Asia.” East Asia Forum, 30 Jan. 2012,
  9. Romei, Valentina. “How Japan's Ageing Population Is Shrinking GDP.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 16 May 2018,
  10. “World Population Plan of Action.” United Nations, United Nations,
  11. Haarlem Model United Nations 2019 Research Report
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