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Insight: Containing population explosion

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About two weeks ago, I received a call from a media representative seeking my views on the revelation that Malawi’s population had now shot up to 17 million.

A few days later, I wrote an essay under the D.D. Phiri column in Nation. One of the things I said therein has attracted attention to the extent I did not expect. This was a suggestion that the government should restrict free education to only two children per family and to let the family bear the cost of the extra children.

A bit of history about controversies regarding population growth may not be out of place here.

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In 1964, the Director of Agriculture Mr. R.W. Kettlewell proposed in the Legislative Council (Legal Co) that Africans should practise family planning to avoid the country having a population bigger than it can support.

Led by the chairman of the Shire Highlands Branch of the Nyasaland African Congress, Mikeka Mkandawire, Africans reacted angrily. The timing of the call for family planning among Africans was wrong. At that time Ministers of the Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland were talking about plans to accelerate immigration of people from Europe so that by the year 1971 there would be a population of one million whites in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland thereby reducing the ratio of blacks to whites, Africans argued that Kettlewell’s proposal was intended to facilitate the immigration of white people into Nyasaland who would come and rob Africans of their land and jobs.

In 1963, Nyasaland became a self-governing country with a prime minister as head of government. One of the most important visitors to the country was Sir Julian Huxley, a biologist and grandson of Thomas Huxley also a biologist best known to be a propagandist of Darwin’s evolution theories.

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Sir Julia asked the Prime Minister what he was doing to make sure that a population explosion did not take place in Nyasaland. The Prime Minister said there were no indicators of population problems in Nyasaland.

Population size and growth did not become issues until the advent of multiparty politics in 1994. non-government organisations and Ministry of Health officials made constant appeals to families to practise family planning. With the outbreak of HIV and Aids, population control ceased to be topical.

Once more population has become an issue in Malawi because it has been realised that no matter how much extra provision the Minister of Finance makes in the budget for education and health, these social services are never adequately supplied. Population keeps on frustrating living standards.

We usually marvel at and admire the East Asian countries for the tremendous achievements they have made economically, but seldom are we told at the time they were attaining GDP growth rates for seven to 10 percent, they were restricting population growth rates. While in Africa, on average population was growing at the rate of 1.5 percent or less, in Europe and North America at less than one percent.

How did the Asian countries manage to contain the population growth rates? When they saw that persuasion did not work they used compulsion. In the Peoples Republic of China, the government passed a law that every family should have only one child. Those who exceeded this were penalised. In India, the late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi got men sterilized if they recklessly impregnated their wives. If Malawi genuinely wants to achieve higher living standards, it must see to it that annual population growth rates are reduced from the current 2.5 percent to 1.5 or even less. It is only when population slows down while the Gross Domestic Product accelerates that a country achieves overall economic growth.

When moral appeals do not suffice, elements of compulsion should be applied for example the government should provide free primary education for only two children per family. Families that want to have more than two children should educate the extra themselves.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedict Kondowe is reported to have reacted to this suggestion as a violation of children’s rights as provided for in the Education Act of 2013 and the constitution. Laws and constitutions are made during given circumstances, when those circumstances change competent people do not let the circumstances overwhelm the country. Instead they modify the laws and the constitution.

The do-gooders of this country should not forget the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and that the economic observation that human needs are always greater than the means of catering for them.

Family men and women should be reminded that they have the responsibility to provide for all needs of their children including education. If they are not prepared to shoulder the burden they should not have children.

If you do not have the means, all talk about children’s rights to free education are mere pretence.

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