EDITORIAL – The right to a child
AT?ABOUT?THE SAME?TIME this week that the world was greeting its seventh billionth person, statistics were released showing that Barbados continues to record declines in its birth rates – two contrasting situations but they share much in common.
The United Nations has long warned that the world has been getting crowded and demographic trends suggest the world’s population should be around 10.1 billion by the end of the century – nearly a 50 per cent increase on the number recorded this week.
Executive director of the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA), George Griffith, has pointed out that 3 366 births were registered in 2010, only 37 more than the figure for 2007 when the island recorded its lowest birth rate in 30 years.
He made an interesting observation that while those with better education and finances were not having as many children as before, those less educated and poorer continued to procreate many times over. It is evident that there is a correlation between education, poverty and birth rates.
We recognize that culture and tradition also play a part.
We are also witnessing more women in?Barbados choosing not to have children. The notion that a woman would marry and have a baby soon afterwards is no longer the norm.
Women now recognise there are choices: have a baby and work; have fertility treatment and then a baby; terminate the pregnancy; and, increasingly, not become a mother at all.
Sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim, of the London School of Economics, has studied voluntary childlessness in Britain and Europe for many years and has described this as a new social phenomenon, with women now open and positive about such a lifestyle choice. Without similar data for Barbados and the Caribbean, we believe her analysis to be relevant here.
Suspicion of childless women hasn’t entirely disappeared because a woman’s fertility status is still viewed as public property. We still hold assumptions about women’s role in society. To be unmarried or not living with a partner places a question mark on a woman, but to be without a child still means, for many in our society, that you are not complete as a woman.
The advances in medical science afford our women the opportunity to postpone childbearing, so many are opting to secure a good education, build their careers and have children later in life, if they so desire.
This island has been fortunate to have had an excellent family planning programme for many years. Some people have argued that the BFPA might have gone too far in its quest to stabilize our population growth by reducing the birth rate. Of course, these successes bring problems of their own as fewer young people will be called upon to support more older people.
We don’t believe that the prevailing recession will have any impact on those who want to procreate. The truth is that parents recognize the importance of giving their children that important edge and expectations are high.
There is much more to raising a child than being a caring parent and since women here are still often the main caregivers, they recognize that it is a very demanding responsibility. Being a mother, therefore, is no longer seen as a rite of passage to womanhood.