BFPA wants special council to discuss population growth
The local organization established to address the socio-economic problems of overpopulation is rejecting “any calls that would put the burden” on women to have more children, as the issue of the population size rears its head again.
The Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) said any discussion about Barbados’ population must go beyond the focus on more children and address broader development issues.
“We reject the calls that place the burden on women because we think it is an issue on national economic and social development,” BFPA Executive Director Juliet Bynoe-Sutherland told Barbados TODAY in an interview from her Bay Street, St Michael office today.
The issue of the country’s birth rate reared its head again over the weekend after Government senator, religious leader and Chairman of the National Assistance Board David Durant was quoted as saying Barbados might have to consider paying married couples to have more children.
Fearing a population crisis within a decade when the elderly is predicted to outnumber children, Durant is reported to have said the imbalance could affect every aspect of social life.
Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett also spoke about his concerns about an ageing population when he addressed a national consultation on the society last month, stating that the elderly population was growing at a faster pace than any other age group, presenting the authorities with a number of socio-economic challenges.
Blackett announced that by 2025, 20.4 per cent of the country’s population would consist of people over the age of 60, presenting issues which could not be ignored at the individual, family, organizational or societal level.
“Population ageing is occurring in the context of a challenging economic climate, changing family structures, and the growing burden of chronic non-communicable diseases and their attendant complications . . . . The social environment can create a setting which increases the vulnerability of older persons and undermine social protection for this population,” he stated at the time.
However, it was Minister of Education Ronald Jones who put it more starkly in his contribution to the House of Assembly on the Appropiation Bill 2014-2015 in March 2014 when he called for a larger population so local businesses could have access to a more diverse consumer base.
Jones said at the time if Barbadians at home could not get the job done, consideration should be given to importing women of childbearing age to increase the population.
“If it can’t be reproduced in Barbados – because the Barbados Family Planning Association has overdone its job – then we must open our doors and [invite] a careful selection of those who can deliver children and within a certain age range,” he said then.
It is this emphasis on producing more children that has worried the BFPA, which has seen this as a narrow approach to resolving the issue.
This is also why Bynoe-Sutherland called for reasoned and rational discussion on the issue, saying it was not one to be sensationalized.
“We are very pleased at BFPA at the interest by the Government in issues of population and development. We do not believe that these are issues that need to be sensationalized through provocative statements by sometimes well meaning people. The issue is that Barbados needs a population and development policy and we at BFPA are calling for the establishment of a population council comprising stakeholders in the health sector, welfare officials, private sector, the statistical department, national insurance and so on. The purpose of this council will be to look at Barbados’ population trajectory over the next 20 years and start planning now,” she told Barbados TODAY.
“We are calling for a measured discussion where you involve women and their organizations [such as] churches to really look at how we plan the growth and they are so many options that can be considered.”
The BFPA, which was established in May 1954 and subsequently incorporated by an Act of Parliament in June 1967, boasts on its website that it has contributed significantly to the reduction of the country’s birth rate, falling steadily from 34.1 per 1000 in 1955 to 12 per 1,000 in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Bynoe-Sutherland admitted that it was a fact that the country had a low birth rate – which stands at 1.84 births per woman, according to the World Bank.
However, she explained it was not by accident, and that Government and organizations like the BFPA had played a decisive role.
“It is correct that we have low birth rate, but this is a result of planning by the Government and companies like us to give families access to a range of options so that family size would no longer condemn people to poverty. In the past Barbados had a high birth rate and high maternal mortality and the Government has worked with us to provide contraception to make sure that women were able to manage their family size,” she said,
The family planning executive added that the economic situation had also prompted many women to have fewer children.
That was why, she contended, a population council was the best way to move forward on this matter.
“The issue is that the reason why women are not having large numbers of children is mainly because of economic reasons. So such a council would look at the kinds of incentives that have to be put in place, the kinds of programmes like the expansion of early childhood education, the expansion of schools. There is a significant amount of planning needs to go into how we address the question of population growth, and not just put the burden on women and families to have more children,”Bynoe-Sutherland stressed.
“This multi-sectoral population council would do what other countries do when faced with this situation. It is not just the issue of low birth rate; it is also the issue of an aging population. People are living longer so you have to address population growth and development across the sector,” she added.