Growth rate of Tibetan exiles plummets

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Friday, December 10, 2010

DHARAMSALA - The exiled Tibetan population’s growth rate has declined drastically in the last decade even as literacy levels have gone up, reveals a census report, which also notes that over 94,000 Tibetans now live in India.

The population growth rate of the community has declined from a healthy 2.8 percent, which was maintained for the last nearly 30 years, to just 1.96 percent in the last one decade (1998-2008), says the census report by the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Officials of the government-in-exile say the decline is linked to the increased literacy levels in the community - which showed a surge of 10.1 percent from 69.3 percent in 1998 to 79.4 percent in 2009.

The effective literacy rate (for population of six years and above) is 82.4 percent and the literacy rates for men and women is 88.7 percent and 74.4 percent respectively, the report has stated.

“Going by the current trend, there is every possibility to expect 100 percent literacy rate in the exile community by 2020,” the government-in-exile’s chief planning officer, Kunchok Tsundue, told Tibetan website Phayul.

According to the survey, the growth in the literacy rate among young child-bearing Tibetan women and the increased use of contraceptives could be the reason for the decline in population growth.

“While more educated women take longer time in building their careers that delay their age at marriage resulting in fewer children or forgoing having them altogether, the contraceptive prevalence has risen substantially from only 10 percent among the married women in 1980’s to 95 percent in 2001,” Phayul said, quoting the survey report.

The census exercise titled “Demographic Survey of Tibetans in Exile-2009″ was carried out in April last year at the behest of the government-in-exile’s Planning Commission. The report was released last week. The previous survey was done in 1998.

The exercise was conducted among the Tibetan community globally even though most of the exiles live in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Another point highlighted by the survey showed a sharp increase in the number of Tibetan exiles, especially the younger ones, opting to settle in countries outside South Asia (India, Nepal and Bhutan).

The population of Tibetan exiles in countries outside South Asia grew from 12,153 in 1998 to 18,920 in 2009. It said over 9,309 Tibetans moved to western countries during 1998-2009.

Tibetan parliament-in-exile member Karma Yeshi told IANS: “We came to India from Tibet to continue our struggle for the Tibetan cause. India and Nepal are good countries to continue that struggle as they have a common border with Tibet.”

“I am not against people going to the West to earn money, but they should understand that money cannot buy freedom (for Tibet). If they go to the West and forget the Tibetan cause, it is a bad thing,” Yeshi said.

The survey found that the total population of Tibetans outside of Tibet stood at 127,935, comprising 70,556 men and 57,379 women, as compared to 111,020 recorded during the 1998 survey.

The sex ratio among Tibetan exiles improved by six points to 798 women per 1,000 men, from 792 recorded in 1998.

Out of the total population recorded, 94,203 Tibetans live in India, 13,514 in Nepal, 1,298 in Bhutan and 18,920 elsewhere around the world, the report stated.

The exiled Tibetans are only three percent of the total ethnic community. Nearly six million Tibetans live inside Tibetan territory under China.

The total population of Tibetan exiles is said to be around 150,000 around the world but some of them did not participate in the survey as they have taken up citizenship of other countries, particularly the US, Canada and European countries. The survey was conducted at 260 places all over the world.

Over 75,000 exiles are engaged in some kind of work even though the report revealed that 17 percent of the population was unemployed.

Even as the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel laureate, the Dalai Lama, turned 75 this year, life expectancy among Tibetans has gone down by over five years in the last one decade alone.

Life expectancy now stands at 67.4 years. While cancer remains a leading cause of mortality among Tibetans, the survey has shown concern at increasing number of deaths due to HIV, AIDS, suicides and accidents.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at

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