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Perpetuating a cycle that can be stopped with a single pill



When I was a child, the best part of Christmas was decidedly the new clothes. Whether you got just one set for Christmas Day or three that would include Boxing Day as well as New Year’s Day would depend on where your family fell on the economic spectrum. But one thing for sure is come Christmas day everyone would be wearing new clothes, even if aunts and uncles had to come together to make it happen for you. The same aunts and uncles would have had to take money out of their own budget so that you would also look like other children and would hand over this evidence of their generosity to your parents and you would have to come and perform your gratitude at their largesse. This generosity would have to be displayed again come January when books, uniforms would have to again be contributed by family. If you were on the other end of this coin you would have to listen to your parents telling you that you cannot have a Barbie doll as that money must now be used to buy clothes for your cousins in the villages who you actually only ever saw once at Christmas time when the family gathered and you were forced to share your toys with them. Of course, being told you cannot have something you want because of cousins you did not even like bred resentment and disgust towards these cousins and so you would get into the car, listen to your parents bicker about one of them spending more money on their own family and arrive in the village to find that aunt M, whose three children have already upset your family budget is pregnant again with her fourth, without a job, foreseeable prospects or any kind of plan except the unwavering belief that God said we must be fruitful and multiply. Depending on how old her other children were, you could tell their embarrassment at this, the poverty they are already living in, the oldest especially if it’s a girl knowing she will be expected to care for the little one and because they can see the disbelief and contempt on their aunts and uncles’ faces. The expecting mother for her part might be showing signs or remorse but more often than not she is secure in the fact that the financial implications of her decision to shy as far away from birth control as possible will be borne by someone else. After all who cares about budgets and financial plans when faced with the spirit of Ubuntu and on and on it will go every year, clothes, food, medical expenses and all the things that children need will be expected to be provided by other people. Of course, the other effect of this will be that these children who are provided only with the bare minimum stand a chance of never making it as far in life as their potential would allow and may end up poor themselves thus perpetuating a cycle that could have been stopped with one pill. One cannot deny that the argument on whether people should be having children they cannot afford is more nuanced than simply being on birth control. The accessibility of birth control, proper education about planned parenthood, gender-based violence and of course everyone has the God given right to have as many children as their heart desires but it is not only irresponsible but also childish to keep bringing innocent children into a life that involves suffering. Let us forget the burden being imposed on relatives and friends but focus on the children themselves. Growing up in poverty is a terrible experience, knowing that your livelihood is dependent on handouts envelopes you as a child in a shame that leads to very low self-esteem. Constantly being sent home because of unpaid fees not only embarrasses you in front of your peers but will lead to your grades suffering as you are missing classes. Going into an examination room hungry will affect your performance, now you are the dirty, unkempt child with torn shoes who is older than the other children because you are constantly repeating grades. Teachers and fellow students alike look at you with contempt which further affects your already low self-esteem. The popular and politically feminist stance is that it is elitist to police poor women’s bodies by telling them that they must get on birth control simply because of the fact that they are poor. Perhaps it is elitist, no one’s body should be policed especially when the policing is based on finances. But political correctness aside the truth is that children are expensive and having children one cannot afford leads to more than just financial difficulties. It is also a benevolent kind of classicism to assume that poor women also lack ambition beyond having children. Most often than not the continued giving birth is just a result of not having the proper tools and resources to make better more informed choices. Of course, there are women who genuinely want to have an ever-ending stream of kids and to those strong women I raise my glass but instead of fighting for people’s rights to have children they can scarcely afford the better idea would be to devote that energy to actually making birth control accessible. More effort must be put in educating women and their partners even in the remotest part of the country about their options and why it is important to plan their families. Elitist as it may sound, I really find it hard to believe that people would be choosing generational poverty if they had the tools and resources to do better. Thakane Rethabile Shale

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