September 13, 2011

"Just Stop Having Babies?!?" (Day 53 - September 13, 2011)

Some people think that those in extreme poverty are the authors of their own misfortune because they have too many children.  I think that's backwards.  I think people in extreme poverty have lots of babies because they are in extreme poverty.

No, no, no . . . That Poverty Guy isn't pregnant nor wanting to experiment with having lots of babies in his tent in order to see what it's like.   I bring this up because I received a "tweet" today from a follower who was wondering, "Why aren't people in extreme poverty (i.e. those who are starving) restrained from giving so many births?!"  This person is not alone in this thinking as a quick Internet search produced a lot of chat rooms asking the same thing.  However, this is dangerous because (i) it propagates misinformation about the poor and (ii) a whole segment of people use it as an excuse to not help those in dire need.  We have to blow this myth out of the water!

The reality is that there are a lot of factors at play as to why many people in extreme poverty have lots of kids.  These include (although not all are applicable to every situation):
  • Needing children to help earn income for the family and/or more hands on deck to assist with surviving and to look after parents when they are elderly.
  • Starting families very young and the high fertility rates of younger women.
  • High mortality rates . . . people have lots of kids because they are not sure how many will survive.  In 2010, 8.1 million children under the age of 5 died (i.e. 22,000 kids per day) with the highest infant mortality rate being in Sub-Saharan Africa where 1 in 8 children die before the age of 5.  This is 20 times the rate in developed countries. Southern Asia is next highest with 1 in 14 children under 5 years old dying.   (Source: Child Mortality Report 2010)
  • Cultural thinking where status is determined by the number of children, and male dominated marital relations (i.e. lesser rights for women).
  • Inaccessibility of contraceptives or beliefs against use of contraceptives.
  • Lack of education . . . both general education and reproduction education, especially for women, has been shown to dramatically decrease birth rates because they tend to wait longer to have children, they are better able to earn higher income and therefore have less need for a large family, they are more knowledgeable about abstinence and contraceptives, and there is often a shift in thinking from the traditional cultural thinking.
From these factors, which particularly arise in situations of extreme poverty, high birth rates follow.  Therefore, it is not only ironic but also ridiculous that some would deny helping fight extreme poverty because of high birth rates when it is the extreme poverty that has caused the high birth rates.  Talk about double jeopardy! (For those not familiar with this phrasing, it comes from the law whereby one is tried twice for the same alleged offence.)

So Poverty Guy . . . what should we do about these people in extreme poverty who are having lots of babies?  That's easy . . . help them!  Two things in particular work wonders in bringing down birth rates.  First and foremost, education for girls. Almost half of the world's out of school girls are in Sub-Saharan Africa (17 million), and one-quarter of them are in South Asia (9.5 million). (Source: World Bank)   It's interesting that these are also the places with the highest infant mortality rates. (Coincidence?  I don't think so.) The many benefits of education with respect to bringing down birth rates are noted above.  Secondly, improve access to health care and health education in order to decrease infant mortality which, when combined with education, also severely reduces the number of births.  Many of the most common killers of young children are easily preventable (i.e. pneumonia, diarrhoea, etc.).

Ignorance is a two way street.  Lack of education and health care prevent those in extreme poverty from making healthy choices and adopting healthy practices.  Similarly, our own ignorance about the causes of poverty, and things such as high birth rates, prevent us from helping as we should.  Let's say "No" to ignorance, and "Yes" to compassion.

IMPORTANT NOTE - That Poverty Guy is hitting the road for a few days to experience another aspect of homelessness, and so there will be no blogs until Saturday September 17th (Day 57).  There will be a full report at that time . . . although Facebook and Twitter updates shall continue throughout.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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  1. In some parts of Canada, the more children you have the larger your Welfare cheque is.. so in essence your paid to have children. This I learned first hand growing up.. Grew up in family of 5 kids who did spend a time on Welfare.

  2. While I see this as more of a perk / support with respect to having more kids rather than the main rationale for having more kids in Canada, the issues are similar. More kids bring about greater chance of financial well being when you are poor. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I also know that a lot of young women on the street are subject to rape and abuse and quite often not chooosing to "make babies"....they are people...not rats.
    its time to love them and help educate and protect those more vulnerable...we dont have time to point fingers if we look at the scheme of things ... and we dont have that right!
    Compassion is the cure for "her" people!!

  4. Sean D. Krausert, EditorSeptember 17, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I really like your comment "we don't have time to point fingers . . . and we don't have the right". I agree . . . we should not be blaming, at least not until after everyone's needs are met. There will be plenty of time later when everyone is looked after to engage in the luxury of finger pointing (albeit a tiresome and negative use of one's time).