By Frances Ewherido
Friday, July 11, 2014, is World Population Day. The day was declared in 1987 to draw attention to the world’s population growth and ensuing issues and challenges. Religious bodies, governments, the United Nations, concerned civil society groups and other relevant organisations are all firm and uniform on one issue: the need for family planning and/or population control.
The point of divergence is the modus operandi. In a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, family planning or birth control has not been fully embraced because getting traction behind this concept is convoluted; it has too many angles and facets based on ethnicity, religion, personal convictions and so on, and as a result coming up with a common national position or policy has been difficult.
During the regime of Ibrahim Babangida, we toyed with the idea of four children per family, but it went nowhere. In a country where many men think they are God’s special gift to ”womanity” and so should go into the world, marry as many women as possible and procreate, such a policy is not going to work. I do not even see how you can legislate on birth control/family planning in Nigeria.
No sensible man presides over his own liquidation: the legislature that will make the law, the executive that will implement and the judiciary that will interpret are filled with men who have many wives and enough children to start a hamlet or village. So whatever form of family planning or birth control effort has to be through moral persuasion and advocacy.
Without any form of legislative restriction, therefore, we are all at liberty to produce the number of children we like, but it is important that young couples know the implication of the choices they make beforehand. It is fundamental for would-be couples to, among other things, discuss and agree on the number of children to have before formally becoming husband and wife.
This agreement is not necessarily cast in stone because medical reasons, unplanned pregnancies, economic realities and other factors can alter the agreement, but these unforeseen situations can then be seen as circumstances beyond control. But it is imperative to have an understanding (agreement sounds a little stiff and formal) in place because the number of children has far reaching implications on various aspects of family life over a considerable time. Let us look at some:
Accommodation: It follows logic that the more children you have, the more rooms you need to afford your family comfort, privacy and good quality of life. If you have the wherewithal, the size of your family will likely dictate the size of your accommodation, but even those in the lower income rung should consider the size of their accommodation when planning their family.
If you are in a single room, for instance, how many children do you want to share the room with? Have you thought about your privacy or you are just going to be having your good time with your spouse while all or some of your children are wide awake? A workable option is important here.
Transportation: A saloon car can comfortably take a family of five, but once the number goes beyond that, ideally the family should go for an SUV which is a bigger vehicle or an additional car. If you look at vehicles as basics and not necessarily luxuries, an SUV is more expensive than a saloon car. An extra car also means more expenses in initial purchase and subsequent maintenance.
These mean additional transportation expenses due to the size of the family. Then for people on the lower rung who have no vehicle, more children means more expenses on public transport.
Children’s Education: children’s education now takes a chunk of the income of families, especially those who send their children to private schools. The fees of some of these schools come in millions even at the primary level. The implication is the more children you have the more money you shell out. Even if you are on the lower rung and your children are in public schools, more children means more expenses on education
Pregnancies: Each pregnancy takes its toll on a woman. It is like athletes doing hurdles. Each hurdle slows them down. It also has health risks and as the woman become older (over 35 years) the health risks increase. Consequently, some women are only willing to carry a particular number of pregnancies. Husbands must of necessity discuss with their wives prior to marriage, as I said earlier. Marriage, as it is, is already a fertile ground for disagreements. You do not need to add avoidable conflicts.
Retirement Planning:The reality is that the more you put away early for your retirement, the better your chance of maintaining the quality of life you would want in retirement. Granted our society has expectations that children will care for their parents in old age, but that does not at all remove personal responsibility or the satisfaction that goes with providing for oneself, even in old age. There is even no guarantee that your children will take care of you in old age; they might not be financially strong enough to give the care that an old vulnerable person needs, or they might be too steep in their world and forget they have aged parents.Some of the old beggars we see on our streets have children! While not exonerating children from the God-given responsibility of taking care of their parents, it is safer not to bank on it or treat it as first option.
Housekeeping:The most obvious family expense is housekeeping. The family must eat and be clothed. These cost money and the more children you have the more mouths you have to feed and more bodies to clothe, whether you are rich or on the periphery.