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Yes, roughly 11 babies born in Kenya every four minutes. Much-shared but phantom ‘CIA’ claim gets there in the end

This stat doing the social media rounds does beat around the bush – but much like a drunk stumbling in the dark, it eventually makes it home.

This article is more than 1 year old

A graphic that has attracted tens of thousands of engagements on Instagram claims that “11 babies are born in Kenya every 4 minutes”. It adds that this has earned Kenya an eighth-place ranking in Africa.

A caption attributes this revelation to “reports provided by central intelligence agency world factbook”.Spotcheck_Kenya

For good measure it adds that in “Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, 16, 3, 25, and 3, infants are born every 4 minutes respectively”.

The graphic has been shared elsewhere on Instagram and Facebook, while news sites also reported the statistic.

All cited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which provides intelligence to the US government on foreign countries, as their source.

But users on Meta, Facebook’s parent firm which also owns Instagram, flagged the claim to fact-checkers on its fact-checking system

The post attracted more than 112,000 views in its first 24 hours, according to Meta’s statistics.

But are the claims in the graphic accurate?

CIA doesn’t publish ‘births every four minutes’

The CIA’s World Factbook describes itself as a “one-stop” reference site for international data. The information is “collected from – and coordinated with – a wide variety of US government agencies, as well as from hundreds of published sources”.

But the World Factbook told Africa Check it does not document statistics on how many babies are born every four minutes.

It does report birth rates, it said, defining this as the number of births in a given year for each 1,000 people in a population. 

The Factbook said it also captures the related indicator of the total fertility rate – “the average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their childbearing years and bore children according to a given fertility rate at each age”.

“It appears others have used those statistics to calculate the number of babies born every four minutes in Kenya,” a spokesperson said.

So the CIA, the source cited in the social media posts, doesn’t actually report this exact statistic.

Factbook ranks Kenya’s birth rate at 43rd in Africa

The social media posts also claim that Kenya “registered a 1.1 decline in birthrate from 2021 where there were 28 births per 1000 women while in 2022, the births reduced to 27”.

The World Factbook directed us to its entry on Kenya. This gives a lower birth rate of 26.39 births for every 1,000 people – and not per 1,000 women. 

(The total fertility rate is given as 3.29 children born per woman.)

Both rates are “2022 estimates”, but the Factbook doesn’t give specific sources for the data, and only has a general references page. And neither of the two estimates put Kenya at eighth in Africa. Instead, it ranks the country at 43rd for its birth rate and 44th for its fertility rate.

Data from Kenya’s statistics office more or less supports claim

The World Health Organization gives possible data sources for birth rates as civil registration data, population censuses, household surveys and United Nations population data. We have asked the global agency if it has any data of its own. 

The Kenyan national statistics office’s flagship publication is an economic survey published every year. Its 2022 edition gave the country’s crude birth rate as 27.9 births per 1,000 population. For this it cited the country’s 2019 census.

The most recent data on births in Kenya is from the United Nations population division, a source cited by other institutions, such as the World Bank. 

This has a crude birth rate of 27.5 births per 1,000 people in 2022. In 2021 the rate was higher, at 27.7 births per 1,000 people. It was 28.0 births per 1,000 people in 2020. 

If these figures are rounded up, they come close enough to the statistic circulating on social media.

What of the “four minute” question?

Kenya’s most recent population was 49.4 million people in 2021. Using that year’s birth rate, there were 1,368,380 births. (Note: The 2022 economic survey listed 1.2 million births in 2021, which it said represented a 97.8% registration rate.

This works out to 3,749 births a day, 156 births an hour and 2.6 births a minute. Using the arbitrary measure of “every four minutes” brings the number of births to 10.4. That’s close to the claimed figure of 11 births if we’re generous and round it up, and not down.

So despite citing a phantom source and making up a random measure of babies born “every four minutes”, the claims get there in the end – much like a drunk stumbling home in the dark.

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