Family Planning

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Family planning is in the news again. But what exactly do we mean by family planning? Is it another, a “cover”, name for birth control? It is important to know what the term means.

Family planning means the control of conception. It means that married couples plan the times when they desire their children to be born. It means, on a world-wide basis, that the world resources can be utilised properly, so that all over the world there is hope of social and economic advance for the under-developed countries instead of a rapid and inexorable growth of population complicating the extension of public and social services. A recent United Nations survey of world social conditions has said that food consumption per head of population in the under-developed countries is below the pre-war level. Housing is dreadful in many Asian and African towns and cities; while half the world’s children are still not attending school.

All over the world, responsible statesmen are realising the deleterious effects of the growth of population, unchecked by any means. In China, the Minister of Health has said: “without planned child-birth China cannot free itself from poverty”. In 1954 the Egyptian Minister for Social Services said “if we continue to reproduce… without regard to the capacity of society to provide for the basic needs of its members, we shall have more weaklings, vagrants and beggars”. Mr Nehru has called for a widespread and successful movement in India for population control. Japan is worried about the “large mass of hungry people” in the country, the result of an unplanned population policy.

In Singapore, the population is increasing at the rate of 4 per cent a year. Unchecked, this rate of population growth will give a population of 2 million by 1970 and 3 million by 1982. Mauritius is likely to have a population of over a million by the latter date. The population of Hong-Kong has multiplied fourfold in the last ten years and by the end of another 10 years is likely to be over 4 million!

Need of Association

Like Mauritius, Singapore and Hong-Kong are small islands with no room for expansion and little room to house and educate and provide hospitals and work for all these teeming millions that are forecast. In both territories, the Governments have grasped the nettle firmly and have advocated restriction of births. The Government of Hong-Kong, in its annual report for 1956, says that all sources of authority and influence (itself, the Churches, the schools and the press) must combine to teach the importance of restricting the number of births in a family. In Singapore, the Government actively supports family planning by making a grant to the local Family Planning Association.

The Singapore Family Planning Association points out, in its report for 1956, that while the politicians of Singapore are anxious for Merdeka (freedom), what the ordinary women of Singapore want is merdeka for themselves and their families — not political freedom but personal freedom; “freedom from fear and worry and want for their families”.

The Family Planning Associations of Hong-Kong and Singapore both include as the first of the objects of their associations: “To educate the people in healthy family planning and to provide facilities for scientific contraception so that married people may space or limit their families and thus promote their happiness in married life and mitigate the evils of ill health and overcrowding.” This must be the first statement of aims and objects, too, in the constitution of the Mauritius Family Planning Association which should be formed at once to implement the long overdue reforms recommended by the population Committee. The East African Standard, a Nairobi (Kenya) daily, spotlighted Mauritius’ population problem in an article on 28 September 1956. The article referred to the expected growth of population and thought it likely that by 1970 the island would have run into a state of economic disaster.

This disaster could be avoided — or if not entirely avoided, at least mitigated — by the establishment of a Family Planning Association Now. I repeat, NOW. Mauritian emigration would prove no more than a temporary palliative in present circumstances; just as emigration from the Seychelles is but a palliative for the over-population there. The import of contraceptives into the Seychelles is forbidden; which helps to explain the high birth rate of 32 per thousand. Le Seychellois reported a Government spokesman, on 15 December 1956 as referring to the increasing population. “Outlets must be found,” he said, “for this new generation.” Family planning, to limit the size of the new generations in many hard-pressed countries, is surely the only answer.

The Religious Aspect

The need for family planning is a need dictated by the hard facts of economic necessity. Julian Huxley has described the growth of the world population as “the most serious threat to human welfare”; the menace of over-population is greater, he thinks, than the menace of the H-bomb. Other eminent scientists, economists and educators have agreed that there is a limit to the feedable population of the world; and means to check the inordinate growth of this population are essential.

Evils arising from unplanned births are many. They include such evils as mothers trying to do away with their children. They include the sale of children, practised on a wide scale among the poverty-stricken people of Java in Indonesia. They include abortion, practised on wide scale in countries such as Mexico and France where the Catholic Church is powerful and successfully opposes enlightened measures designed to bring knowledge of birth control and family planning within the reach of all.

The churches of the world regard the problem of birth control as a moral problem. It is against the will of God, declares the Catholic Church; but, says an Australian Protestant minister of religion, “Planned parenthood, if practised with a Christian conscience, is more likely to fulfil than violate the will of God.”

A recent pamphlet published in France by Editions Spes under the title Planification des Naissances et Morales Sociales sums up the attitude of various philosophies towards birth control. Of “Les morales traditionalistes de l’Orient,” the author (S. de Lestapis) says: “Au nom de la personne individuelle, la planification des naissances apparaitra vraisemblablement comme une nécessité, et la contraception comme la meilleure méthode à préconiser.” Discussing the Christian ethic, de Lestapis differentiates between the “morale chrétienne des confessions reformées” which is “une éthique de la liberté individuelle”, and “la morale sociale catholique” which does not allow that “on puisse faire un acte de personne avec un acte contre-indiqué par la nature… En conséquence s’il doit être question d’une régulation de l’accroissement des populations du monde, ce ne peut être par des méthodes contraceptives.”

Will Government Act?

The Church of England’s Moral Welfare Council first published in 1932 a six-penny pamphlet, The Threshold of Marriage. Last reprinted in December 1956 (making 655,00 copies, and still selling at 6d), the pamphlet refers to birth control: “All Christians are in agreement that there is no justification for the use of contraceptives (i) for purely selfish motives…(ii) to avoid parenthood altogether (iii) outside marriage.” Family planning does not mean the avoidance of parenthood altogether; it means that married persons should be able to control nature (by artificial means, if necessary, in the same way that nature has been artificially controlled whenever irrigation works are undertaken, whenever a power station is built to harness the waters of a river, whenever a reservoir is built which will prevent water running to waste) and decide for themselves when their child or children should be born. It is in no selfish spirit that birth control is advocated by family planning associations, and by the international Planned Parenthood Federation and its constituent member-organisations. The advocacy is in a desire to see the material resources of the world put to the most economic use. It is in a desire to avoid the misery and poverty which result from unplanned parenthood.

Family planning is a necessity, not only in Hong-Kong and Singapore, but in Mauritius and the UK and Malta and France and Mexico and the West Indian islands… all over the world, in fact.

When is the Government going to act? When is it going to put into effect the recommendations of the Population Committee? When is it going to give its open support to those courageous groups which have already started work in Mauritius? The reform of land tenure is a much-needed reform but it is, in the circumstances of Mauritius, but a palliative. Only an energetic programme of family planning education NOW can avert the economic explosion foreshadowed by the East African Standard.

Mauritius Times – Friday 6 December 1957
4th year – No 174

* Published in print edition on 5 October 2021

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