According to UNFPA policy guidelines: "Family planning refers to those practices that help individuals or couples to avoid unwanted births, to determine the timing of births and to determine the number of children in a family. Family planning information, services and supplies, education about sex and parenthood, diagnosis and treatment of infertility make the attainment of this objective possible". The non-use of contraceptive methods and the non-limitation of numbers of children, with no care taken to space children so that they can be adequately nourished and do place a burden on family resources, imply lack of family planning. Early marriage is also included since this is likely to lead to more children, while the parents have less time to build up the economic resources with which to support them. Such lack of family planning results from inadequate access to family planning information and facilities, lack of social security other than that generated by the family itself, general poverty and traditionalism.
Failure to implement family planning intensifies land tenure and migration problems, poverty, malnutrition, maternal and child mortality, and hinders development. Reasons for such failure may differ considerably from developing to developed countries, in so far as the majority of parents in developing countries may want many children whereas underprivileged parents in industrialized countries may wish to limit their families. In industrialized countries it may be more directly related to lack of facilities and information especially for the young, poor and relatively uneducated. There is strong evidence that the higher the standard of living, the more family planning methods are put into practice.
In the developing world less than 20% of reproductive-age couples, on average, use contraceptives, compared with approximately 70% in the developed world. Yet half of the currently married fecund women in 15 countries stated that they wanted no more children; and in seven of eight countries where data were available, more than 25% of married women with at least one child, or currently pregnant, stated that their last pregnancy was unwanted. In 1983, 62 governments out of a total of 168 felt that the current level of fertility in their country was too high; however, only 74% of these countries implemented policies to decrease the level of fertility. Although Asian countries lead the way in instigating population programmes, other continents are gradually increasing their commitment to family planning. UNFPA response to increasing interest by African countries, in particular, has resulted in significantly increased annual expenditure in Africa over the last four years.