Fertility and family land disputes[02-23-2009]
It does not suffice to say " Your fertility is too high. It must be stopped while there is still time. " (This was a headline in the daily Observateur Paalga of November 20 , a quote from the resident representative of the World Bank in Burkina, Mrs Galina Sotirova) on the day of the publication of the census data, on November 18th.
We must try and understand the background of these rates, when trying to work out a policy which takes this reality into account and also has a chance of being listened to by the rural population.
In the 60'ies and 70'ies the average number of child-births per woman was 8. But half of the children born alive died before the age of 5. I checked this back in 1974, upon arriving in the town of Kiembara. I looked up the parish records of baptised children and noted that 50% of those having reached the age of 5 had died.
There was no old age pension ! (And there still is none for farmers and herders in Burkina). Therefore one major concern of a farmer and his wife was (and still is) to provide for some sustenance in their old age, a "stick to lean on", a married son who would remain in the household. In view of this one might admit that it made sense to have eight children! Even if the calculation is not the same as the one I am doing here. In a family of eight children three of four on an average would leave and get married in the village, among them one or two sons. Given that all the girls would move out to get married, eight children seemed a reasonable number to have to ensure some security in old age.
Today the situation is fortunately different. The child mortality rate is no longer 50%, but down to 8.6%. Having four children born alive today most of the time means that all four will get married. Therefore, parents with four children have reasonable hope to have one married child at their side in old age for sustenance and support.
And other substantial change is the number of schools. There are few villages now which are far remote from a primary school. This has made it easier to secure primary education for one's children. Secondary education colleges are now also more numerous, but there the tuition fees might be an obstacle. Farmers do not always have the means of paying secondary education for all their children, although this is the wish of most parents in rural areas.
Telling them: "You are too fertile. It is time to stop!" is no good. One could probably say: "Times have changed. If you decide to have (only) four children, you will be able to look after their health and to send all of them to school. There will be a son who stays in the family and works the land that you will leave him. And your other children, nearby or farther away, will also be able to help you when you grow old."
Koudougou, January 28th 2009