AWRIGHT DEN!: Let’s talk babies
TODAY I join in the discussion on the suggestion made by Senator David Durant that “Barbados may have to consider giving monetary incentive to married couples to have more children”.
His suggestion was made on the premise that in the not too distant future, the number of elderly would outnumber the number of children; a process Joseph Chamie, an independent consulting demographer, calls reversal of populations. Rev. Durant’s concern is that this imbalance will affect every aspect of social life.
It is important and responsible to think about how the future will be affected and as a result, I can’t fault the senator for his forward thinking. However, it is equally important and responsible to think about how society stands right now and how it may be contributing to the birth rate being at 1.84.
I am a husband and father of three, and I can testify that marriage and parenting are very rewarding, but also two of the most challenging things I have ever done. Money or incentives cannot buy love and if money is the motivation used to encourage people to have children, it will lead to some form of child abuse.
Material needs are important for children – clothing, food, shelter, toys, medication, books which money can provide – but the intangible needs are priceless. You cannot buy care, support, sacrifice, encouragement, patience, stability, kindness, love, affirmation, faith, praise, understanding, value, nurture, discipline, warmth, selflessness or peace.
The social and economic climate in which we Barbadians live is very challenging and very different to times gone by. These changes and challenges are informing people’s decisions as they relate to children.
1. Change in family structure
Grandparents are younger and still in the workforce, and are not in a position to “raise” grandchildren as before. The support from siblings and relatives has also decreased and the custom of “a community raising a child” is basically non-existent. Additionally, women are no longer at home raising children and depending on a man to provide.
2. Career-driven society
The demand for work experience and qualifications from employers offering “good jobs” has resulted in young professionals choosing educational goals and career development over family life.
3. Change in values
Religious beliefs encourage procreation but society is becoming more secular in its beliefs and values.
4. Money, fun and freedom
Being a parent means you have an enormous responsibility. Your free time is shared; certain pleasures and freedoms are reduced or ended; life isn’t about me and my wants anymore, and money is diverted. There are many people who aren’t willing to sacrifice this.
5. High unemployment
With the uncertainty of jobs and the high unemployment rate, people are sceptical about bringing a child into this environment.
6. Increase in cost of living
A friend once told me his wife said she wanted more children and he asked her: “When the child hungry, you think I can tell it go out there and eat some grass?” People are struggling to make ends meet. Could you imagine the struggle with two more mouths to feed? Added to that, civil servants haven’t received a pay increase, yet the cost of living is increasing.
Rather than give monetary incentives to have children, maybe greater support could be given to those who already have them.
1. Maternity benefit
It breaks a mother’s heart to have to return to work three months after her baby is born. Maternity leave could be extended to at least six months and maternity benefits could also be your entire salary rather than just a percentage of it.
2. Paternity benefit
This is an option that should be considered. The role of a dad and the support he gives to the mother is very important.
Senator Durant was wise in stating that this incentive would be geared towards married couples. As a reverend, he couldn’t just say couples as he would have been accused of promoting fornication. That being said, married couples wouldn’t be enough to solve the situation, especially given that millennials aren’t too keen on marriage and divorce is a regular thing in Barbados.
In a 2011 article carried in the NATION titled, I Dos Or I Don’ts, it was stated that for marriages lasting up to five years, the divorce rate was 24 per cent and up to ten years, it was 47 per cent.
• Corey Worrell, a former Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, is director of C2J Foundation Inc., a project-based NGO focusing on social development. Email: [email protected]