Letters & Opinion

Between Births and Deaths, Christenings and Funerals

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By Earl Bousquet

FOR some reason, we spend more time following deaths than births. Every day we (Not me, though!) tune-in to the radio and TV or read the newspapers to see and hear who died. But I’ve never heard anyone ask, “How many children were born today?”

Same with our gross appetite for bad news about deaths… Calling them “murders” or “homicides” (and interchangeably too many times), our media has so focussed on reporting the most gruesome aspects of killings and shootings of the day or night that we also wake up every morning these days, asking ourselves: “I wonder if anybody I know was killed last night?” But here again, we never ask “How many children died last night?”

In the midst of trying to figure it out, my mind strayed all the way to Asia, where the emphasis seems to be opposite to ours: on births instead of deaths. They are not only interested in the number of persons being born, but also want to control the number before it gets out of hand. We used to call it ‘birth control’, now it’s referred to as necessary ‘population management’.

India and China, the world’s two most populated countries, have long both had equal reasons to control births, but each has taken a different approach historically. India’s approach includes (though not limited to) ‘sterilization’ of men and women. China, on the other hand, decades ago adopted a ‘One Child Policy’ that allowed each couple only one child.

China was criticized over the decades for its ‘One Child’ policy, critics accusing Beijing of violating individuals’ ‘human right’ to make as many children as they like, whether they can care for them or not. The policy was somewhat relaxed in rural China, but in the growing cities it was firmly implemented. Those who could afford went to Hong Kong (especially while under British rule) to deliver their second child or simply migrated. But, essentially, Chinese at home obeyed the law over time.

In India, on the other hand, people are still free to exercise their right to produce as many children as they want, resulting in annual birth rate and population growth increases that have long been proven unsustainable. By current trends, India will become so overpopulated in such little time that it must find ways and means of either feeding everybody or burying more each year from hunger and starvation. Governments in Delhi have been heavily subsidizing the cost of growing and distributing food for the poor to ensure those they reach can eat at least one meal daily.

It’s clear today that the Chinese approach was wise and proven correct over time, with the United Nations population agency actually congratulating Beijing for its wise choice while India continues to worry about the consequences of eventually being unable to feed its hungriest citizens.

Drifting my mind back home, I couldn’t but conclude that we no longer care about population control as we used to back when the local Family Planning Association (FPA) introduced “birth control pills”. Back then (in the late 60s and early 70s), with help from the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), local women were offered ‘tablets’ and men were offered ‘condoms’.

I remember certain doctors here grew rich performing surgical procedures that prevented women from becoming pregnant, but it turned out much later – much too late too – that several women complained of harmful after-effects. Then came the news from India last week where a doctor was arrested for having performed over fifty botched sterilization surgeries in less than six hours, resulting in several women dying and many having to be hospitalized. The state blamed the doctor and the doctor blamed ‘faulty medicine’ given the clinic where he operated – but the women continued to die. And then came the even worse news that three ‘cannibals’ were jailed in Brazil for killing and eating mainly women who told the court they belonged to a religious sect that believes in world population reduction by eating ourselves away.

But population and birth control are less spoken of here these days – and again I wonder why.

We’re told two-thirds (or 66.6%) of Saint Lucians alive today were born after 1979. But we’re also told the national birth rate has slowed-down over recent years. I’ve asked myself whether the lower birth rate has anything to do with the increasing number of infanticides being reported today. But I suspect it may have more to do with more and better sex education, less willingness and ability of young unemployed to pay for care and education of their children, and/or women (and a growing number of men) simply not wanting to join the growing list of ‘single parents’.

I guess the questions I’m asking myself will only be answered when something happens to force us to revisit our population and birth control policies for whatever reason. Other countries facing greater challenges are also always faced with new and additional challenges as time goes by. This past weekend, for example, the respected international medical journal ‘The Lancet’ reported that the face of global infant mortality has changed with over one million children dying at birth every year, in these times. The largest number is in Africa, where less babies are being killed by diseases and more by lower health standards.

Here, we continue to care more about deaths than births — until something happens to drive us to understand and accept that life is always more important than death. Until then, I guess we’ll continue to be more interested in attending funerals than christenings.

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