Monday, December 14, 2009

A reason for the desire for big families in Africa

Population growth in Africa seems to be a big topic today. This morning we had a couple of stories about how population booms can make resources even more scarce. Another story that we linked to talked about how US policy may have contributed to the population boom.

What is hard for us westerners to understand is why big families are so desired by the men in Africa, especially with all effort it takes to feed all the children. Often big families are not a series of mistakes but is what the parents want and society pressures for the same.

From All Africa, we have found a pretty good explanation on some African people want a lot of children. Writer Paul Ohia links the desire of a big family to the big family farms.

In rural agriculture and animal rearing, the family that has the highest number of off-spring fare better during the farming period because the number of workers increases. It should be noted here that it was not traditional to employ permanent hands by families to do the cultivation an herds keeping. Though a family can hire paid labourers from time to time, the usual permanent workers are the members of the family.

Polygamy in Africa can best be understood in this light because men being the natural inheritors of family farms and herds tend to marry as many wives as their resources can allow them in order to have many workers. They are not slaves in any way because they benefit from the proceeds of their works as their daily nourishments come thereof.

In a nutshell, majority of the cattle herdsmen that traversed your locality with their herds were not employed workers but children or owners of the cattle though the situation are changing nowadays. The workers you saw in the large acres of farmland owned by a man in your neighbourhood are mostly his wives and children.

Times have changed and many Africans have become educated enough to leave rural farming to embrace white collar jobs but the allure of having as many children as possible remains in their subconscious. Of course, an average African would be having quarrels with his or her mother in-law if the person announces that she/he wants to have only one child or just two children.

This tradition led to population boom and in a society where social security does not exist, most of the children who were not lucky enough to be born by affluent parents suffer lots of setbacks. In several cases when one or two of the parents becomes deceased then they are left at the mercy of relatives. Very unlucky ones do not find relatives to take care of them and that is the birth of African street children.

Study reveals that the continent is producing a child every second, and by 2050 its population will reach 2 billion. Due to the aforementioned social pressure, African women bear 5.3 children each on average, compared with 2.1 in the United States, says the Population Reference Bureau, a demographic research centre in Washington.

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