The Economist magazine’s September 22 issue addressed the subject of population growth in Africa and its implications for development.
It relied heavily on Tanzania as an example for the case it was making, which is that birth control has wide and long-lasting demographic and development benefits.
Since they have done the boring… I mean important work of comparing statistical demographic trends, let me add my two cents as one of the 50+ million Tanzanians referred to in the article. The good news is that Tanzania is in no danger of running out of Tanzanians anytime soon. In fact, quite the opposite.
Access to family planning services is a basic and crucial element of social welfare policy on many levels.
It addresses issues of child and teenage pregnancy, education about reproduction and basic human biology, pregnant woman health and nutrition, safe childbirth, early childhood healthcare, prevention and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, the household level economics of responsible child-rearing, bodily safety from sexual violence irrespective of age or gender, and the right to choose whether or not to have children, when, whom with and even how. The list of benefits that come with family planning is very long.
Furthermore, family planning offers a menu of voluntary services: The individual, the family, and the community are free to use or ignore it.
The only organisations that can afford to force family planning, contraception and even eugenics on people are governments.
It tends to be the calling card of totalitarian states and racist colonial legacies: Ask Nazi Germany, WWII Japan, Canada, Australia and the United States about their little forays into that dark science. It is not really the service providers you have to be wary of, it is the authorities.
One thing I don’t support is the idea that ignorance is bliss, and that choice is dangerous. Which is why I must protest: Tanzania has done well in embracing a progressive public family-planning policy currently supported, but not dictated nor even initiated, by development partners.
Asking the said partners to now cease their public information programmes on family planning strikes a bizarre and unwelcome note. What are we going to do next, start burning books that tell the truth about the birds and the bees and how to get honey rather than stings?
Also, could we stop conveniently leaving out reproductive sciences’ most positive side: The provision of fertility services.
People struggling to become parents benefit from the very same medical community whose job it is to help people avoid unwanted pregnancies. If you are reading this and you have been helped by modern medicine to conceive and safely deliver your much-desired offspring, consider this: You engaged family planning services to your benefit.
When it comes to reproduction, ignorance can be fatal.
We have finally worked on reducing maternal mortality, early childhood mortality, increasing school enrolment, raising the age of consent, condemning female genital mutilation, discouraging school pregnancies, and so on. These are all benefits of family-planning type thinking. Why step backwards now?
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]