Family Planning in Trinidad

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

With a population of 700,000, Trinidad (in the West Indies) has a racial structure closely resembling that of Mauritius. There is large coloured bloc — descendants of African slaves — and an East Indian bloc comprising both Hindus and Moslems. There is a small Chinese minority, together with a white community, mainly British. Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are the principal religions; Catholics comprise slightly less than half the Christians and Anglicans slightly more than half.

Family Planning In Trinidad . Pic – Nile Post

Also, like Mauritius, Trinidad suffers from over-population and a high birth rate. Towards the end of 1956, therefore, a family planning clinic was started in the island to combat the urgent problems of over-population and social instability but also because it was felt that (as the Royal Commission on Population said in 1949) family planning is now part of civilised life and should be available in any reasonably developed country, preferably as an integral part of the medical services. Up to now, however, the Government of Trinidad has refused any financial help to the Trinidad Family Planning Clinic whose first report, covering the period from September 1956 (when it was opened) to the end of 1957, has recently become available.

Certain facts in the report are important to Mauritius. Nominally, Trinidad is a Catholic country in the eyes of the Catholic hierarchy. On theoretical grounds, therefore, the introduction of birth control and the establishment of the family planning clinic were likely to be opposed root and branch by the Catholic Church. Many Trinidadians felt that it was both impossible and impracticable to open such a clinic in Trinidad. And there has been much controversy in the local press about the clinic. But the result of the first fifteen months of the clinic’s work demonstrates clearly that there is an overwhelming need to make family planning available for those who want to use it.

During the first year’s work, many patients attended the Trinidad clinic who could not be helped: they wanted, for example, an abortion or injections. Those who attended and could be (and in fact were) helped numbered 443. Of these 351, or 80 per cent, were coloured and 92, or 20 per cent, were Indian. No Chinese were seen. As far as religion was concerned, 36 per cent of the patients were Catholic. 46 per cent were Anglican, and 18 per cent were Hindu. It is thus clear that many Catholics are attending the clinic in the face of their Church’s theoretical opposition This is actually common experience with all family planning clinics, and demonstrates that in matters of importance to the everyday life of the people, the Catholic hierarchy exercises far less influence than it proclaims.

It is also noteworthy that 30 per cent of the patients seen at the Trinidad clinic had had illegitimate pregnancies; and 44 per cent of these were Catholics, 51 per cent were Anglicans, and only 5 per cent were Indians. This, says the Trinidad Family Planning Clinic, emphasises the “behaviour pattern of illegitimacy and loose liaison running right through the Negro part of the community. Indians have a much lower illegitimacy rate than the others as is to be expected from their more stable community behaviour pattern”.

The Indians, however, began having children at an earlier age than did the Negroes. One Indian in five had her first pregnancy before the age of 14; by the age of 19, three-quarters of the Indians and over half the Negroes had had their first pregnancies. Very few women delayed child-bearing till the age of 25 or over. Investigation by the clinic also elicited the fact that many of these very young mothers had had more than one pregnancy by the age of 20; one patient had had no less than six! One woman in the 21-25 age-group had had 12 pregnancies before attending the clinic for advice. The real size of the birth rate problem is shown by the number of pregnancies of age-groups. For example, 13 women in the under-twenty age group, had had between them 40 pregnancies: three each on average. In the 21-25 age group, 105 women had had between them 498 pregnancies, or an average of almost five each. Only four had had, in fact, less than three; and 30 had had above the average.

On the average, therefore, it seems that the Trinidadian woman has at least eight pregnancies during her life; which demonstrates the urgent need for birth control to help reduce over-population. Government vital statistics show that the survival rate is increasing; of babies born, more are living; and more people are living longer. Therefore, it is justifiable to claim that the family planning clinic has something to offer towards the solution of some of Trinidad’s problems.

As in Mauritius, most workers receive low incomes; of the patients attending the clinic in its first year, one in ten had a weekly income lower than the equivalent of Rs 27.50. Well over half the patients had less than the equivalent of Rs 69.50 a week; in relating these wages to the level of wages in Mauritius, it may be of interest to note that a Government labourer in Trinidad receives an average of the equivalent of Rs 44.50; a Government clerk gets the equivalent of (on average) Rs 60. Employees of the oil companies (whose position in Trinidad is analogous to that of the estates in Mauritius) get more. These are averages per week.

In view of the claims of the Catholic hierarchy that mechanical methods of birth control are against the moral law, and that the rhythm method is the only method conforming to nature, it is interesting to learn from the Trinidad Family Planning Clinic that 36 per cent of the Catholics who attended the clinic had previously employed mechanical means to control births.

The Trinidad experience demonstrates the need for education in birth control to prevent overpopulation. It demonstrates the readiness of women to learn and use birth control methods. It demonstrates that the vociferous of a minority opposed to birth control on principle should not deter family planners from propagating their beliefs. It demonstrates too that those who are opposed to birth control in theory cannot influence their own followers one hundred per cent; so, their opposition should certainly not be allowed to prevent the establishment and working of family planning clinics for those who do want them.

Unless even more misery than at present exists is to be allowed in Mauritius, an island-wide system of family planning clinics is a necessity. By 1962 the first group of post-war babies will be looking for jobs; and unemployment will be the greatest problem facing the country. It is bad now; but within five years it will be much worse, lacking largescale expansion and investment in industry generally. Family planning now is urgent; the Government should no longer dilly-dally over the implementation of the Report of the Population Commission.

5th Year – No 200
Friday 6th June, 1958

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 August 2022

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