This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Census-Taking in Afghanistan Sounds Like Anthropological Research

Today's NYTimes has a fascinating article on the population census that is currently underway in Afghanistan. The last census was taken in 1979 and counted 14.6 million people. UN demographers estimate that the current population is about 32 million, as do demographers at the U.S. Census Bureau's International Program. Afghanistan is a very poor country, with high fertility and high mortality, complicated by the very low status of women.
The census teams generally include a man and a woman who often spend considerable time waiting in front of doors that never open, often because of purdah, the custom of sequestering women indoors away from men not their husbands or relatives and requiring a burqa when outside.
Of some interest is that the government's goal is not just to collect information about the population, but actually to register the people themselves--not unlike the purpose of ancient Roman censuses. In the process, people are encouraged to choose a surname (most don't have one) and to pick a birthday (many people do not possess a birth certificate and so they may be unsure about their birthday).
Each Afghan will also receive a new identification card, complete with a chip containing biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints. Many worry that the new cards may upset the country’s delicate ethnic balance. Afghanistan is ethnically diverse, with Pashtuns, the largest group, across the south and east, and a sizable Tajik minority in the nation’s north. There are also Hazaras, an oft-persecuted Shiite minority, not to mention ethnic Uzbeks, and others.
It is estimated that it will take five years or more to complete the census. Of course, during the next five years, it is projected that Afghanistan will add another 3.7 million people, so this could be a never-ending project! 

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