Far too many couples that can barely afford to get by are having larger and larger families and putting their children in needless danger.
Evidence of this is available in abundance but for cultural, political, religious and other reasons, nothing is being done to discourage the trend. We believe the rash of child killings and attempted killings that have been highlighted in the media in recent months should be cause for reflection on the state of the family.
All children are constitutionally guaranteed the right to a life of health and equal opportunity. But, in the absence of significant support from parents, providing them with these rights through social welfare spending shall be a challenge for even the most socialist government.
The nation’s population is growing faster than service delivery can be improved. The demands on national revenue are huge and there is a limit to the burden the State can bear. We commend forward-looking interventions like the public school feeding scheme and the Orphans and Vulnerable Children programme, which attempt to address social challenges.
However, there is clear evidence they are far from adequate even for the specific groups at which they are targeted. The solution isn’t merely expanding them to cover the large number of children at risk, such as those in large impoverished families.
There is already a shortfall in meeting the needs of orphans and the elderly. Rather, we should aim to reduce the number of children at risk. This begins with encouraging Kenyans to have smaller families through education and provision of the healthcare services young mothers require.
We are aware that population control is a politically sensitive issue that few are brave enough to bring up. Political leaders looking to boost ethnic numbers on voter rolls are often quick to call for more births even in areas where grinding poverty is the norm.
Religious leaders, on the other hand, stick to dogmatic positions based on the methods by which control is achieved. This leads to an impasse in which reductions that would be good for the nation remain elusive.
Evidence from countries like Brazil, China and India, which have aimed at low levels of population growth, shows a beneficial correlation between smaller families and prosperity.
Why not seek similar success rather than live with alarming levels of malnutrition, childhood disease and infant and maternal deaths?
Some analysts have argued that rather than bring down fertility rates, Kenya should focus on reducing child deaths. Surviving children, they say, are the best form of birth control. This, however, has not been borne out by experience. Indeed, large families often get larger even in circumstances where this seems foolhardy. In 2008, for instance, a menial labourer in Kyuso District became a father of nine after his wife bore triplets.
The 41-year-old man was forced to seek the help of his ageing parents to care for the children. Yet to most Kenyans, the births of Samuel Kalonzo, Seth Raila and Saulo Kibaki was cause for celebration not a cautionary tale about unplanned families. Another family of nine that comes to mind was that of Jamin Mukobero, driven to mass murder by life’s frustrations.
Far too many of the 1.5 million or so children born every year enter families already too large for parents to handle. When disease, separation, misadventure or other misfortunes rob such families of one of the breadwinners, they go from living in crisis to full-blown breakdown.
As reported elsewhere in this paper, some of the parents left struggling with large families of their own or children from other relations succumb to their frustrations with alarming regularity. Interventions to deal with this issue need to be devised urgently, both in the short term and long term.
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