LET no one confuse us, we want many children. Every man should not consider himself done until they have got 80 children,â€ said a caller into Impact FMâ€™s morning show on Wednesday. â€œHow can you a Muganda man, say that you have only two children, it is a shame. You have become a mzungu (white man),â€ said another.
â€œMy grandfather got 65 children. 35 died, he now has 30. If he had got 35, heâ€™d have no children left,â€ another caller noted.
â€œWestern countries are paying their women to give birth. They are telling us to stop having children so that they can come and take over our land,â€ asserted somebody else.
â€œThe Kikuyu in Kenya and the South Africans were able to fight for their land because they are many. We need more people to defend our land.â€ These were only a few of the listenersâ€™ views on Impact FMâ€™s morning show, hosted by Gawaya Tegulle.
The show discussed the importance of birth spacing in building a planned and healthy population, but quickly shifted to discussing population control. Many people in Uganda think that anybody talking about family planning is stopping them from having the number of children they want.
Though women bear the brunt of big families and frequent pregnancies, the callers were mainly men and almost all of them were calling for large families. Listening in, I wished children grew on trees so that whoever wanted many could go and pluck them. Sadly, that is not the case. A woman, somewhere, has to risk her life to bear children in Uganda.
According to statistics, a Ugandan woman has a one in 27 lifetime chance of dying during the process of getting a baby. This is compared to a one in 8,000 chance in the developed world â€” yet the men were calling for 60 or 80 children per man.
At an average of seven children per woman in Uganda, this means each man would need at least 10 women to achieve this feat. Uganda is an agricultural country and 80% of the production is by women. If these same women are going to be pregnant seven times in their lives, when will they get time to look after their babies and also contribute to their family development?
Ugandaâ€™s demographic challenge
Ugandaâ€™s population grows at a rate of 3.2%. Every year a million babies are born in the country. This translates into about 3,000 babies born daily. At that rate we need at least five schools for 700 pupils daily to meet this demand â€” that is if we were planning according to our fertility. Some economists argue that a big population is a blessing, that Uganda will soon reach a period of demographic dividend if fertility declines. However, others warn that to reap a demographic dividend, there must be plans and investments in the young working population, otherwise the benefits quickly pass as this population ages.
The demographic dividend is considered one of the contributors to the economic bonus of the East Asian Tigers. In Africa and Uganda in particular, high fertility and huge dependency are said to be contributing to slow economic progress.
A high birth rate strains all sectors, starting with health care services and education. Other sectors like water, land use and the environment are also affected. International studies have shown that family planning is one of the interventions that can result in savings to many of these sectors and help countries reduce poverty and accelerate development.
By averting unintended births, countries are expected to reap economic advantages because there are fewer babies born, fewer children to immunise, educate, fewer people demanding for water, land and other environmental resources.
Family planning may indirectly contribute to almost all the Millennium Development Goals. It is easier to reduce poverty in smaller, manageable families. There are benefits from savings on the UPE budget if there are fewer pupils per teacher.
Women with spaced births can engage in economic production thus empowering them. Family planning reduces the number of children who die in infancy and also the number of women who die due to pregnancy-related complications. With family planning, the number of babies born with HIV can be reduced, pressure on the environment will also be reduced, in all contributing to the global goal to reduce poverty.
As researchers and stakeholders meet in Kampala at the first ever family planning scientific conference one hopes that sub-Saharan Africa will learn and implement for a better future. Perhaps achieving the MDGS in 2015 is a possible feat after all.
The writer is Featuresâ€™ Editor at the New Vision
You want only two kids, are you a mzungu?