I have been brooding over this for so long that it has begun to gnaw my entrails and until I am heard, I won’t be at peace. The age-old belief in having many children needs to be done away with. It might have suited a period when the survival of a child was not guaranteed however, we are currently in a Scientific Age, and we need to be calculating in our every step and decision. Matching our income to our daily plans and our long term goals still seem alien to our society. We use religion as an excuse for everything; in this case, to have very large families. That is the African. Modernisation has set in and this antediluvian act needs to go. We need to take pragmatic steps to check our family systems and family size.
The mere mention of “family planning” creates an imagery of draconian measures usually undertaken by the female sex. That is what our society has reduced it to. The observation of disgust with which the term is reacted to, especially in some religious circles is appalling. The term “family planning” simply means planning your family, and essentially, your life. In the Health sector, it then incorporates the means of controlling how many offspring an individual should have to match his/her resources.
On 11th May, 2011, Malcolm Potts, a professor at the School of Public Health at University of California, Berkeley and Martha Campbell, president for Venture Strategies for Health and Development and lecturer at the same university wrote an op-ed titled “Without Birth Control, Planet Doomed” This was just after the announcement by the United Nations Population Division that the World population would swell to 10 billion or more by the end of the 21st century instead of their previous estimate, which found the population plateauing at 9 billion by 2050. In the op-ed, they posited that though the fertility rates across board was declining, it was happening rather slowly in the continent of Africa. Improved access to family planning and to an extent, a preference for smaller family sizes is lacking in most African countries. I would not be surprised if there was a ranking system indicating the extent to which countries practiced family planning, most African countries would be in the lower ranks.
Another thing they noted was that in countries with a high rate of HIV-AIDS, despite the expectation that the harmful effects of having the condition will cause a decline in the population, it seem not to have affected it at all. For instance, in Uganda, one of the worst affected by HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, it is expected to triple its population by 2050. An interesting statistic is that in the first five months of 2011, the world population had grown enough to equal all the AIDS related deaths since the epidemic began 30 years prior. 8 years down the line, you can take a wild guess as to how much we have grown in terms of population.
Rapid population growth overtime will strip the continent, especially sub-Saharan Africa of gains in economic development. Those who usually have larger families are unable to save to establish businesses for their children. They are also unable to get these children proper education. The children end up on the streets and this reduces the number of quality human resource the nation needs to develop. The ability of people to have fewer children will enable parents to save and establish businesses. Profits can be translated into factories and companies which will translate into a self-sufficient economy. Simply put; having fewer children is the way to salvage this continent. According to the United Nations family health experts, except a few oil-rich states, no country has been able to extricate itself from poverty while maintaining high birth rates. High birth rates make it impossible to expand and improve education and health systems which are the backbone of every developing state. More children means an unending vicious cycle of poverty.
By 2100 the world population could hit 15.8 billion or reduce to 6.2 billion depending on what conscious efforts governments across the globe make towards improving family planning systems. Before being concerned with the world we have to first put our house in order. Quality is always better than quantity and that is what our government should be focusing on. Giving children free education will not solve a quarter of the problems of our country. Building a national cathedral will neither save the cedi from total worthlessness nor solve unemployment and political hooliganism (I have a problem with using the term “vigilantes” for those goons. They are sons of anarchy and there is nothing honorable about their activities.) Don’t get me wrong, a national cathedral may be important at a point but that should not be our priority now. Helping people to plan their families will enable even the poor to have a say in the number of children they can cater for so that there is no need for government to pay fees for ten children, nine of which were unplanned
In Africa it is not only Ghana that has such a lackadaisical attitude towards population explosion and its adverse effects on the general welfare of the individual. Let us take Niger for instance, the population is said to exceed their economic growth. 20 % of women in Niger are reported to bear 10 or more children and only one in 1,000 women completes secondary education. One out of every 3 children is malnourished and global warming doesn’t help their case as it is expected that agricultural output will decline significantly. From a population of 14 million, it is expected that at their current rate of birth their population will hit between 53 and 80 million by 2050 if pragmatic measures are not resorted to. If one third of children are malnourished in a population of 14 million, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how chaotic and catastrophic Niger will look by 2050.
Also, in Kenya, rich women have an average of three children as compared to eight by poorer women. It came out that the rich are able to afford contraceptives and our governments need to subsidize if not make contraceptives free for all. This will enable people to have children by choice and no longer by accidents. The number of unplanned children in Africa is the cause of our predicament. At such high birth rates Africa stands the risk of the age old survival of the fittest, only this time, of the extreme sort. This is if the wrath of Europe and America especially doesn’t fall on Africa in terms of consciously “thinning” or “downsizing” Africa’s population through whatever means possible. According to the work by Malcolm Potts and Martha Campbell, “we have to ensure that the population can be slowed by purely voluntary means and within a human rights framework”. I see caution to Africa in those words. There are horror and apocalyptic themed movies such as Interstellar, The Thinning, Downsizing and Mother: Caring for 7 Billion about the zeal of some people to reduce the world population by whatever means possible. These movies though fictional, could happen to us.
Ghana can be a pacesetter in terms of managing its population for the other African countries to follow. We took the lead in getting independence and Africa followed. We can liberate the whole of Africa from this rigorous economic situation by pursuing some of the suggested methods below.
- Massive public education on advantages of smaller family sizes
- Subsidizing or making contraceptives free(both emergency and regular)
- Regular seminars on family planning
- Educating women especially on their rights especially concerning family life
- Regular public education on sexually transmitted diseases and their effects
- Regular blood screening for tertiary and high school students especially. It will take the conscious effort of every Ghanaian and every African to salvage our rotten continent from certain collapse. There should be no politicization of any of these efforts if we are to really give these methods a chance to give us back life.
Isaac Adamah also known as Ike is the writer of this article. He is a teacher at St. Augustine’s Senior High Technical School in Nadowli in the Upper West Region of Ghana. He loves children but believes in planned-parenthood, not having children by accident. He is against pregnancy compelled marriages. As a hobby, he loves to write. He had his SHS education at St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary and has a B.Ed (Arts) from University of Cape Coast (UCC).