x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Catholic Church calls upon Christians to give birth to more children

Worried about the community's dwindling population, church leaders in the Indian states are encouraging Christians to give birth to more children.

New Delhi // Worried about the community's dwindling population, church leaders in the Indian states of Kerala and Mizoram are encouraging Christians to give birth to more children. In Kerala, the Catholic Church has initiated several measures in church-run hospitals, including medical interventions such as the reversal of tubectomies for women and providing treatment to infertile couples.

"The church will extend support to women who want to undergo recanalisation or reversal of tubectomy. A recanalisation surgery in other hospitals costs around 50,000 rupees. In our church-run non-profit hospitals we can bring down the cost to 10,000 rupees," said Father Jose Kottayil, the secretary to the council from Kochi. While parishes across Kerala have been asked to conduct sessions with smaller Christian families to encourage them to have more children, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council's Commission for Family has also promised to provide an education allowance to the fourth child in a family - indirectly asking each Christian family to have at least four children.

According to the 1991 census, Christians accounted for 19.5 per cent of Kerala's 29.09 million population. When the 2001 census revealed that the state's population had increased to 31.84 million, or a 9.42 per cent increase, the percentage of Christians had actually dropped to 19 per cent. In response, in 2004, church leaders decided to begin their campaign for larger Christian families. "According to the latest government statistics, the fertility rate [children per family] among Kerala's Christians is 1.5, the lowest among all [religious] communities in the state. It's leading to the fall of the state's Christian population and it concerns us," said Fr Kottayil.

The Catholic clergy's concerns run counter to those of the Indian state. Beginning in the 1950s, health officials began promoting smaller families and attempted to popularise slogans such as "Ham do, hamare do" ("We two, our two", in Hindi), urging couples not to have more than two children. In the Christian-dominated north-eastern state of Mizoram, where a church campaign for larger families began last year, the executive secretary of the Mizoram Synod, Zosangliana Colney, said children are the "continuation of God's creations" and "human beings have no authority to control that process".

As the country's population has grown to over 1.2 billion, experts predict that by 2050 it will reach 1.53 billion and overtake China as the world's most populous nation. India's national fertility rate, according to latest figures released by India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, stands at 2.8. The same 2007 chart shows Kerala's fertility rate at 1.9, among the lowest in the country, and the Christian fertility rate in Kerala at 1.5, the lowest among all religious communities in the state.

Christian leaders say that while Hindus and Muslims, the two larger communities in Kerala, are growing, the shrinking Christian population has reason to feel threatened. "Kerala has seen a higher rate of fall in its Christian population, possibly because of increasing education among [Christian] women and growing unemployment among adults. "But, on the other hand, the populations of other religious communities have been growing in the state, further making the Christians shrink in the society, and it is a matter of grave concern in a country where violence against Christians has been rising every year," said John Dayal, the secretary of the All India Christian Council and national convenor of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights in Delhi.

Church leaders also blame western influence for Christian families becoming smaller in Kerala. Noting that abortions were taking place among the state's Christians, Fr Kottayil said that "loose Catholic doctrines" emanating from the West were leading Keralite Catholics to assume the non-Catholic belief that contraception and abortion are a matter of personal choice for couples and outside the purview of their religion.

"But we are against contraception and abortion: the birth of a child is originally a decision by God. A couple can only help His decision be executed, as partners in the process," said Fr Kottayil. "Many [Christian] couples are opting for only one child. For normal growth of their child at least another sibling is needed in the family - we are passing this message to those single-child parents. This one-child policy is the root of our crisis," he said.

Health experts say that India can no longer sustain large families and it must immediately bring down the population growth rate to zero. "People's economic situation is not improved by having more children. It places them under greater financial pressure and exposes them to malnutrition and disease and they do not have the money for education and clothes," Vivek Baid, the president of India's Mission for Population Control, told London's Observer newspaper last month.

Fr Kottayil, however, argued that in India the "unequal distribution of wealth" is the main hurdle for overall development. Mr Colney said: "[Children] are God's blessing on human beings. We know that if God wants to continue His creations, He surely will balance life on earth". srahman@thenational.ae