In Africa and many third world countries, family planning can be a big challenge. Disccusion of sex or sex-related topics openly in this part of the world can be a taboo. On the other hand, sex education is not only a normal discourse in the West, it is indeed an important part of the school curriculum. Furthermore, women and girls in the Western world have a human right to decide if and when to become pregnant. Sadly, statistics have overwhelmingly shown that unwanted pregnancy, infant mortality, and death of women and girls during pregnancy are on an incredibly high scale in Africa and the third world countries where sex-related discourse is culturally restricted. The opposite is the case in the West. Is it time for Africa to look back and embrace the future and listen to the warning bell of the family planning?
It is estimated that 80 million unintended pregnancies take place globally; from this frightening figure, 42 million of the unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. Worse still, according to the WHO, an estimated 222 million women of reproductive age in developing regions, are not using a modern contraceptive method. A significant number of these women actually want to avoid pregnancy. While South Asia leads the way amongst the regions with the highest number of women who do not want to become pregnant but are not into family planning, Sub-Saharan Africa follows suit. From the cultural and religious beliefs, side effects, resistance from male partners, infrequent sex, many of these vulnerable women and girls do not have access to family planning.
Medically, the healthiest time for a woman to become pregnant is between the ages of 18 and 34 and at least 24 months after a live birth. Furthermore, women are encouraged medically to become pregnant at least 6 months after a miscarriage. In most countries where girls are married off at a ripe age, usually, these girls are mercilessly exposed to death and other health challenges – especially when they give birth under the age of 18. A pregnancy between the ages of 10 to 14 is five times more likely to lead to the death of the girl. Likewise, women with many children (usually with five or more children) are almost 3 times more likely to die during the pregnancy labour. Other than death, they face other health challenges, like lack of blood during child delivering or excessive bleeding. The risk is not limited to women with many kids. Women older than 34 are more likely to have complications during pregnancy. In most cases, their babies are born medically deformed.
Generally, these challenges can easily be tackled by doctors, experience health workers, government agencies, trusted persons or even religious leaders, who could enlighten the women on the advantages of family planning as well as the danger facing women and girls who neglect this important part of their life.
Apart from maternal deaths, women suffer serious illness, injuries, life-threatening loss of blood, reproductive organ damages, infertility, chronic pain, nervous system, inability to control the leakage of urine, to name just a few, due to lack of family planning. With access to the family planning programme including the use of contraceptives, these preventable health problems can easily be avoided. More importantly, maternal mortality and the need for abortion – not to talk about death-risks associated with it – can be drastically reduced. Often, girls in the parts of the world where family planning is not encouraged, drop out of school due to unwanted pregnancies. This academic disruption effectively destroys the bright future and opportunities for the affected girls. In many cultures where unwanted birth outside the wedlock is discouraged, many women and girls are exposed to cultural ostracization or persona non grata due to unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, women who have the ability to make choices regarding their childbearing are, in most cases, most likely have a better future – educationally and career-wise. Basically, one can say that family planning helps to empower women and give them authority over their health and future.
But the advantages of family planning go beyond helping women and girls; the government benefits tremendously from such an exercise. With well-articulated family planning, governments have a clear insight on the various figures, which help the State plan better and effectively. Far from planning, a better family planning reduces the financial burdens of governments. With less population, the government can deliver more effective services in the areas of education, housing, poverty alienation, sanitation, health and other social services, thereby providing a quality life for its citizens. All these make family planning indeed a vital, cost-effective investment for governments. If that is the case, why is the world population on increase despite the huge advantages of family planning?
Of course, the typical argument amongst child-incubators in Africa and beyond is that “God brings children.” Definitely, based on one’s religious dogma, some can say that God brings children, but have we considered how irresponsible and unfair it is to bring a child in the world we cannot take care of? Children deserve our unconditional love, protection, and care. To be able to fulfill these natural duties, we must be financially and socially ready for them. Unfortunately, apart from health challenges, having ten children with a miserable income can be suicidal. Hence the urgent need for family planning. Couples with the number of children they want usually have little or no problems fulfilling the educational and other social needs of their children. The couples can save from having fewer kids and therefore can invest better in the social services for their children. With fewer kids in class, the teacher can take better care of the pupils in their classes, and thereby deliver quality education. Interestingly, recent research works have constantly shown that children from family planning homes perform much better in school. Are these obvious advantages not enough for both individuals and various governmental organisations to pay a serious attention to family planning?
Arguably, the aim of family planning is not to encourage promiscuous lifestyle amongst girls, as some would argue. Yes, some cultures might frown at sexual activities of unmarried girls, but access to family contraception could go a long way in saving the lives of the affected young girls. Furthermore, it could lead to a brighter future for the young girls, who will face their education and job opportunities. This helps to empower families because the young girls equally contribute to the family after they have joined the workforce.
With the health, economic, financial and social benefits of family planning, all hands must be joined together to create a positive impact of the programme. Family planning is not exclusively a female domain. Male partners must be involved too. From discussing and deciding when and how many children they want to have, couples can plan as a team aimed at greater results. On the other, it is in the interest of the government to support family planning fully. By so doing, the government is investing in an efficient, cost-effective policy, which will lead to better quality services at less cost. For sure, family planning is indeed an undeniable asset both for individuals and governments.