“I did it out of desperation,” said Devi, 25, as she lay on the concrete floor recuperating at the clinic in the state of Bihar. “We’re so poor, we need the money. Health officials came to our home. They told us it would be best.” India’s Poorest Women Coerced Into Sterilization, More here
In 1982 the Malawi government under Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda approved the introduction of the National Child Spacing Programme as part of an overall Maternal and Child Health Programme. The goal of the Programme was to reduce maternal, infant and child mortality by lengthening birth intervals thereby promoting the health of mothers and children.
The lengthened birth intervals were a population growth management strategy designed to reduce the number of children born to a woman, which in theory would result in smaller families across the country. Health NGO such as Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) fronted campaigns including the ‘Man to Man’ campaign as a way of creating awareness among men about their responsibility in family planning.
Recently, an increased population has created challenges for governments across Africa as to how they will best serve their ballooning populations. Such challenges include the need to create sufficient jobs, the need for adequate healthcare services to cater to the people, and the need to mitigate against hunger and drought in the event of insufficient or late rainfalls, or in the event of flooding as has happened in Malawi this year. Further, there is a need for infrastructure development in the form of houses, hospitals and schools to serve such a population.
In Malawi, with a population that has grown from around 10.38 million in 2000 to 16.36 million in 2013 (an increase of about 36.5 % in 13 years), it’s easy to see how the issue is problematic in the long run, because Malawi is a small country which is already struggling to properly serve its current inhabitants, the majority of whom live in rural areas. So if the country is currently struggling to serve its current population, how will it cope with millions more added each year?
While I’ll admit that there are many facets to the issue of population growth and planetary resources – some not so pleasant, refusing to acknowledge that a large population in Africa could have negative consequences upon our economies across the continent if not managed properly, is tantamount to ignoring the problem, if not living in denial.
And you can’t compare with other continents for example Europe or Asia because Africa has faced different dynamics to those which built Europe, or helped the likes of China expand economically.
On World Population Day last year, Tighisti Amare, a manager of the Africa programme at Chatham House, writing for the Guardian posed a question whether population wasn’t to blame for Africa’s high youth unemployment? He concluded his article by saying:
“The relationship between population and youth unemployment is complex. As populations expand, a concerted effort needs to be made to avoid the destabilising factors that result from youth exclusion and lack of equitable growth. To do this, African countries need to address the systemic issues behind the problem through transformative economic policies and social sector spending.”
Transformative economic policies and social sector spending…
I believe it is the responsibility of African governments (already burdened by relatively small economies that contribute comparatively little to their tax coffers) to begin instituting transformative measures of population management now as a way to ease the added pressure population growth has on African countries, just as China did in 1979 with its one child policy in regards to its population (a policy that is said to have averted at least 200 million births between 1979 and 2009).
In particular, I think Women empowerment policies fall within the social sector that could be used to achieve this aim.
For example, what about a women’s empowerment initiative whereby a woman who had given birth no more than 3 times would be eligible for a government grant of say between $200 – $400 a year, for a maximum of 7 years? The less children a woman had, the more money they would be eligible to claim.
In Malawi where the average salary is less than $200 (some estimates puts it between $160 to $170 a month), the funds would go some way to enable women in the rural areas to better their lives be it to start a microbusiness, invest in better crops that demand higher prices in the markets, or generally supplement their incomes.
It wouldn’t be a free lunch, because there would be a need for certain conditions to protect the initiative against abuse.
Off the top of my head, the initiative would need to be managed by Aid Agencies and Civil Society Organisations, and not directly by the government:
(i) Each recipient must live in the rural areas, and not in the major cities. The reason is that the project should be designed to help those people in the rural areas, who are in worse economic situations, often plagued by acute poverty, and not people who live in the cities. Further, people who live in the rural areas are more likely to have many children, than their compatriots in cities.
(ii) This initiative will apply only to those women who have not given birth more than 3 times.
(iii) The money must be used sustainably (and not given to husbands – to waste on Kachasu). Here I think some kind of checks would need to be established by the facilitators of the scheme to ensure that the grants are not being squandered.
(iv) The funds will be paid to each eligible person over four instalments. The eligible women must attend classes four times a year on topics such as balancing family and work, managing money, sustainable agriculture and related topics before receiving each instalment, so there would be an educational angle to the scheme.
(v) Each woman would be assisted to open a bank account (if they don’t already have one), and the funds would be paid directly into the bank account. This could help bring banking services to the unbanked, so the project has an added advantage to the government and the financial sector. Alternatively the initiative could use mobile money as a means of disbursing funds.
Now, I must state that I’m not a big fan of using monetary incentives to enforce public policy any more than I’m a fan of using threats, fear and intimidation to do the same. Further, each woman must have the right to decide on what size family they want.
But with the current financial situation in Malawi, maybe monetary incentives such as described here could be used to achieve a number of aims collectively, including fighting poverty. As always, the big question is who will fund it? Where will the money come from? And I must say that is something the authorities will need to look at.
But I think in a deeply religious country such as Malawi where some religions preach against contraception, and where H.I.V has had a destructive effect on communities the last 30 years, an empowerment initiative in the lines described above which has a potential to bring some sections of the informal sector into the formal sector could go some way towards encouraging smaller and healthier families.
However, I’m not a healthcare specialist so this is a purely theoretical exposition. To what extent such an initiative would be effective is an entirely different question, although I’m certain such an initiative is far more humane than some of the other population management policies documented elsewhere.