• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Wanton procreation is not a victimless crime

Wanton procreation is not a victimless crime

By the time I got married in 2015, I knew that I did not want to rush into having children. Apart from the emotional aspect of things, there was also the economic commitment of having children that I knew I was unprepared for.

I lost count of the number of people who dropped gems like “Don’t plan for God! Na God dey give pikin” and other such unwanted nuggets of Nigerian cultural “wisdom.”

One such person even told me at work one day in 2016, “Omo a mu ore lati odo olorun. Te ba ti bi’mo, e ma ri pe ise e ma blossom.” (Children bring blessings from God. When you have a child, you’ll see that your career will blossom). I knew, however, that as a mid-level marketing professional earning just over N150,000 a month at the time, bringing a child into the world as a sort of high-stakes bet with the supernatural, would be the same thing as taking over the cockpit of an aircraft mid-flight, knowing full well that I couldn’t fly the damn thing. Why take that kind of risk with an entire human life?

Clearly, not many of us see things this way. Nigeria’s population statistics show that not only is Nigeria a very young population, but a shockingly disproportionate percentage of Nigeria’s population are minors (a hefty 42% of Nigeria’s population is 0-14 years old).

Placed alongside Nigeria’s fertility rate of over five children per woman, this means that Nigerians already have far more children than the economy can currently support, and the trend is accelerating instead of slowing.

This has two main implications for us. First of all it means that there is a lot of avoidable suffering right now for children born to people who cannot take proper care of them.

More importantly, it means that as Nigeria’s ‘population bulge’ matures during the ongoing fourth industrial revolution, this country will somehow have to create more new jobs, housing, infrastructure, school places and healthcare facilities in a few short years than it has done in its entire existence.

If you want to have a vision of a future where children born for no reason in industrial quantities are left to die or find a way to survive, you need to look no further than Northern Nigeria, which is now one of the most unsafe places in the whole world.

Children cannot socialise themselves into being useful members of society – they need their parents for that. When their parents are overwhelmed because of the sheer numbers they choose to birth, the children who don’t die turn feral, and become a danger to everyone.

A takeaway from the story of Boko Haram is that over and above the existence of well-funded religious extremism, the existence of a large, unplanned and idle population is the fuel that the extremist fire feeds on.

One story that stands out for me is that of a friend who worked with an NGO involved in relief efforts at an IDP camp in Borno sometime in 2016.

According to him, it was highly unusual to see any children older than a few months and younger than 10 at the camp. He claimed it was because a chunk of the demographic of children aged 1 – 9 had died of malnutrition – they had literally starved to death.

The IDPs continued to have more babies, he said, despite having absolutely no plan for how to preserve them beyond the first few months of life.

Contraception was freely available, but the people insisted on bearing children, only to watch them die, mourn them and then do it all over again.

I can think of no better metaphor for Nigerian childbearing habits – a pattern of self-harming behaviour carried out because of a misguided sense of cultural purpose in the face of all economic and scientific evidence.

Take responsibility for your procreation decisions

As it turned out, my decision not to have children early was an inspired one. The marriage did not last, and we were both able to shake hands and walk away without any lasting damage.

If children were involved, we might have stayed together for their sake and transferred the trauma of living under an unhappy marriage (as we did with our parents) down to yet another unfortunate generation.

Read also: The importance of the forthcoming Population Census

Alternatively, we would have split and been confronted with the reality of co-parenting an emotionally damaged “suitcase child.”

As Nigerians of childbearing age, we must accept that taking charge of our reproductive decisions is the first step toward salvaging whatever is salvageable about our collective future.

The easiest way to stop transmitting generational trauma from our parents and forebears is to be strategic about having children. If we know we have no business having children, or we are not yet ready for the immense commitment and responsibility involved, then for the love of God, we do not need to have those children.

A child is an entire human being, not a collectible item or a rite of passage. We do not need more damaged Nigerians to add to the hundreds of millions already in existence.

Boko Haram as we know it would not exist if smallholders in Borno and Yobe did not give birth to children prodigiously, with no real plan or purpose for their existence.

The results are in the open for all to see. It is time to stop hiding behind religious beliefs and superstitions to make the procreative decisions of 18th century subsistence farmers in a 21st Century economy. “Na God dey give pikin” is a cop out and an excuse for irresponsible behaviour.

It’s not ‘God.’ It’s really just us.