The Beijing Women Conference of 1995 affirmed that, “… reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and the right to attain the means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in the human rights document”.
The emphasis on reproductive health was to build smaller and stronger families where every child is wanted and safe. It was to ensure a higher quality of life for the family, quality food on the table, quality education for the children and better time for the woman to devote to caring of other children. All these leave the woman healthier and stronger to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.
Seventeen years down the line, the story seems to be the same as reproductive freedom for majority of women is still a mirage. They have to bear children one after the other until their husbands are satisfied. A son is a must and it doesn’t matter if a woman gives birth to ten female children before having a son. Customs and traditions still celebrate women who are able to give birth to a dozen children. Some traditions and religions still abhor birth control measures like the use of contraceptives.
The result is increasing, uncontrolled population. That is why the theme of this year’s World Population Day (WPD) celebration: “Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services,” was very apt. It focused on reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, family planning, sexual education and Hiv/AIDS prevention services.
The world has been observing World Population Day since 1987 to reaffirm human rights to family planning.
This year’s theme recognised the need to educate women and youths on information and health as access to appropriate information and health services will help them make right decisions.
The July 11 event presented an opportunity for stakeholders to reflect on the growing world population and ways of controlling it.
In an address, Chairman, National Population Commission, Eze Festus Odimegwu observed that the root cause of infant and maternal mortality, especially in the developing world is poor reproductive health services. He said the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 were targeted at reducing child mortality and improving maternal health and that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was committed to assisting the developing countries attain these goals by 2015.
Odimegwu noted that maternal morbidity and mortality were most commonly associated with high risk pregnancies and birth. These include too early pregnancies (pregnancies and birth by mothers under 18 years), two many births(more than four previous births) and too late pregnancies (pregnancies after the age of 35).
He added that, “When a woman dies giving birth or a child is orphaned, the ripple effect on the society is enormous. The consequences extend beyond the existence of these individuals, and have implications for societal peace, prosperity and stability.
The chairman, represented by a federal population commissioner in Rivers State, Rev (Dr) Donald Wokoma, emphasised that reproductive health helps in building smaller, quality families, where the mother, the child and the entire family will be happy.
He canvassed the use of modern contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies, increase birth intervals and reduce the risk of women dying from frequent child birth.
“As can be seen from statistics, the whole world is trending towards smaller families. We cannot afford to continue to lag behind and be logged down by cultural inclinations that are retrogressive to our women’s rights to education, health and all the benefits of life,” he said.
He revealed that while the contraceptives prevalence rate (CPR) in Nigeria is 10%, Botwana has 39%, Indonesia 57%, Kenya 32%, Tanzania 20%, Ghana 19% and South Africa 55%.
Similarly, Mr Richmond Brown, a participant said there should be more sensitisation on the use of contraceptives as many people still object to its usage as a means of birth control.
“Many men do not like using condom during sexual intercourse. They say it make the act unnatural and unenjoyable. Many also for various reasons do not subscribe to the use of coil, pill, contraceptive injections or any other birth control method. These set of people should be educated by government and non-governmental organizations”, he stated
Brown advocated a birth control policy similar to China’s One Child Policy as a way of controlling the rising population in Nigeria.
The world population is estimated at about seven billion. The two Asia giants, India and China alone have two billion people, while Nigeria, the giant of Africa has about 170 million people. Other developing countries make up a larger percentage of the population.
The United States Census Bureau (USCB) estimates that by 2027, eight billion people will live on the planet, with the population reaching nine billion mark in 2046.
Unfortunately, the resources of the world are finite and with little or no arable land or fresh water space, dwindling interest in agriculture, as is the case in Nigeria, it is becoming increasingly impossible for good production to keep pace with these rises in population. To make matter worse, the world’s stock of natural resources that support human life –such as fresh water, quality soil, energy and bio diversity are all being polluted, degraded and otherwise depleted. Erosion, inappropriate irrigation and drainage methods have resulted to the loss of large hectares of land. Provision of fertilizers to farmers in Nigeria is still unsatisfactory, leading to poor yield.
In view of this, analyst say, adequate measures should be put in place to curtail population growth in the country.
Dr Wokoma said, “we should be able to make contraceptives available, free of charge. We should provide free anti-natal services for every pregnant woman. We should be able to educate our reproductive age women on child spacing, and on the need for quality time with their children.
He also called for the support of President Goodluck Jonathan’s policy on population control.
“The President is saying we should begin to be sensitive to what we are doing. If you are producing 10, five children, take note, your salary cannot cater for them. If EFCC and ICPC is working, you cannot steal government’s money. So you cannot train them. You cannot give them good life. So let us be sensitive to what we are doing”, he stated.
He said Nigeria can convert its large population to wealth if every individual is educated. This, according to him, will result to quality population which can communicate better, negotiate better and control the abundant resources in the country better than foreigners.
The commissioner stressed the need for State governments to improve their relationship with the commission because “the data generated by the NPC has no meaning unless it is put into use by constituted authorities.”
He regrets that NPC is unable to register not more than 30 per cent of all the birth today due to lack of support from various state governments. “Registration requires having a registrar at each centre, paying them very well and monitoring them. Rivers State has only eight adhoc staff for this. We have been begging State and local governments to help, but we have been unable to convince government to take this seriously and pay,” he said.
He urgues that if birth registration exercise is carried out adequately, there would be no need for frequent census.
In her own view, Mrs Elizabeth Chikwendu, a participant said if the natural resources in the country are utilized properly, the 170 million Nigeria will be adequately catered for.
“Our problem in Nigeria is not over population but greed and corruption. Our leaders are two greedy. One person wants to take the money meant for a whole state, starch the money in foreign banks and the people here are languishing in abject poverty, unemployment, hunger and many more. So if our leaders and politicians stop stealing our money, there will be enough for all Nigerians both born and unborn”, she said.
Director of Statistics, State Ministry of Health, Mr Omengibia Wenike Harry, said government has tried in the procurement of materials for family planning but the implementation is that of parents. He called on more NGOs to participate in family planning campaign by going to schools and rural areas to teach parents and students.