Saturday, November 22, 2008

Coercive birth control methods

COMMENT - Colonials have always attempted to 'control' the population size of African people, the way they 'controlled' population size of Native Americans. They moved people of the best land, and put them in overcrowded 'reserves'. And now under this guise, they push the false argument of overpopulation. Look at it this way. Zambia and Japan have exactly the same landmass. Zambia's population is 11 million, but Japan's is 300 million. Which one is 'overpopulated'? With only 20% of arable land in Zambia under cultivation (and only 3% under permanent irrigation), it is not overpopulation that is the issue, but underdevelopment. And all the while, they refuse to tax the mines and create works projects.

Coercive birth control methods
Written by Editor

The suggestion by Bweengwa UPND member of parliament Highvie Hamududu that the number of family be reduced to three or four children should be approached with a lot of care.

Hamududu says there is need for Zambia and other African countries to define a family size and this is the only way the economy can be sustained and controlled. He says Zambia and Africa in general need to come out clear on the carrying capacity of the economy in relation to the population and economic empowerment.

Hamududu says currently, the population is growing at a fast rate which the economy cannot afford and advises the government to take the bull by the horns and aim to chop the population. He gives the example of China, a country with over a billion people, as one that has managed to control its population and economy.

No one can totally disagree with or dismiss what Hamududu is saying.

It is necessary to go more deeply into the very serious problem of uncontrolled population growth.

We do feel that it’s necessary to approach the important problems of our times realistically. We need to find the best way to handle the need for birth control, which in some countries has led to serious political conflicts and disputes.

Truly, with our limited resources, we should be more concerned over the problems of birth control.

But, for now, we think this should be left to what the Catholics call “responsible parenthood” – that is, parents should decide on the number of children they want to have, and they are duty-bound to promote the fullest development of their lives.

So, in view of its importance, this problem should be dealt with very carefully. And birth or population control methods that tend to violate human rights should be opposed and not entertained in any way.

No one can deny that there is need to control or manage the growth of our population for if this is not done, there will be terrible consequences sooner or later. We cannot sustain a high population growth rate and pull ourselves out of the abyss of poverty and suffering.

But coercion, forcing people to have three or four children, would be wrong and impracticable. And keeping the entire population so uncomfortable as not to want children is neither desirable nor reliable. The problem requiring consideration is whether people can be persuaded to want family sufficiently small for stability. No effort should be made to find a pattern applicable to all people at all times. As long as an adequate majority of people can be influenced to want slightly fewer children than on the overall average, a balance would result.

This is not to say that no attention should be paid to the issue of population growth. Throughout the world, living standards are improving, birth rates are falling, and population growth is steadily coming to a halt – with one exception: our continent, Africa. Our countries are, in general, forced to make do with less and less food each year while our populations continue to expand.

But given that birth rates fall as economies grow, total fertility rates should be expected to go down as we strive to improve the economic performances of our countries.

People often argue that countries are poor because they have too many people and not enough resources. But this just doesn’t hold, cannot be said to be totally true for Africa. The fact is that Africa is less densely populated than many of the wealthy countries of the world.

A growing number of authorities believe that Africa is actually under-populated. Africa is now the world’s most sparsely populated continent – although it now has the most rapid population growth rate – and many parts of it are so sparsely populated that it is unable to support anything more than rudimentary communications and transportation networks. The result is that the distribution and diffusion of goods, services and ideas are severely retarded.

And the example Hamududu gives of China needs to be looked at carefully. We don’t think Zambia or Africa is in the situation of China. That country today has a population of about 1.3 billion people. That’s too big a population for any country, regardless of the size of China’s territory and resources. It might have been very necessary for China to take such measures. It had a population crisis. We don’t have such a crisis to take such drastic measures of birth or population control. Moreover, such measures are a violation of human rights.

Anthropologist Steven Mosher, who lived in rural China when the “one child” policy of the government was implemented describes what happened there: “…there were 18 women, all from five to nine months pregnant, and many red-eyed from lack of sleep and crying. They sat listlessly on short plunk benches in a semi-circle about the front of the room, where He Kaifeng – a top cadre and party member – explained the purpose of the meeting in no uncertain terms: ‘You are here because you have yet to think clear about birth control, and you will remain here until you do’. Looking coldly around the room, he said slowly and deliberately, ‘None of you has any choice in this matter…’ Then, visually calculating how far along the women in the room were, he went to add, ‘The two of you who are eight or nine months pregnant will have a Caesarian; the rest of you will have a shot which will cause you to abort.’”

Chinese women were routinely rounded up and forced to have abortions. Vigilantes abducted pregnant women on the streets and hauled them off, sometimes handcuffed or trussed, to abortion clinics.

Mosher describes the pain of one woman whose pregnancy was discovered at the last minute. She pleaded to be allowed to have one more child: “In the village, there is no way to survive if you don’t have a son,” she cried. In the rural areas of China as in many other parts of the underdeveloped world, children were regarded as a means of support for parents in their old age. Since a son was more likely than a daughter to be able to provide for his parents, many families wanted to have at least one son. But if they were allowed only one child and that child was a girl, they were faced with a problem. Many rural families solved this problem by simply allowing female babies to die. And the Chinese press openly spoke of the “butchering, drowning and leaving to die of female infants and the maltreating of women who have given birth to girls”. A policy to limit the number of children parents could have actually resulted in the genocide of female children.

It is clear from this story of rural China that it would be dangerous for this country to follow Hamududu’s suggestion that “a family size should be defined across the board whether rich or poor so that we arrest the population explosion and increase economic gains”.

And it can’t be true, as Hamududu suggests, that “Zambia must as well forget to grow economically if the number of children in a family is not clearly defined”. We don’t think what is holding our economic growth right now is the size of our population. We believe it is, among other things, our inability to manage the resources of our country in an efficient, effective and orderly manner that is holding back our economic progress. It is not the size of our population. In fact, if we manage to attain some reasonable economic growth, we will join the rest of the world in recording dropping total fertility rates.



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