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The population debate

There are many ways of helping couples to space their families

1996 Available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Population – Footsteps 27

A discussion about population growth, family planning and other relevant themes

Children are a blessing.  The Bible teaches that children are a blessing. Children are to be welcomed into the world and celebrated. People are made in the image of God and are to be given respect and dignity. However, many people today do not experience life as a blessing but as a tragedy. They may live in extreme poverty or as one of millions of ‘street kids’ who are unwanted. They may die from illnesses which are preventable.

God is just and has a special concern for the poor, weak and powerless. God’s desire is that people should live in sustainable relationships between people, the land and other resources, and be at peace with God. God is a generous creator and wants all people to have sufficient resources to give security and hope in their lives.

Economic development We need to work together to improve the prospects for people in their communities. This means working to create jobs, access to credit, improving housing, education and health care. Justice for the poor is at the heart of Tearfund’s work.

Education of women Educating women and girls is one of the key issues in discussions about population. In many cultures women have the decision to have children imposed on them. Where there is a strong preference for boys, girls are often regarded as inferior. In some cases the discovery of a girl foetus, through the use of scans, will lead to an abortion. In countries with a dowry system, girl children are seen as a drain on household income. Access to education and employment is vital so that women can make their own contribution to household income and to the community.

Family life Strong marriages and families are the backbone of strong communities. Marriage is a commitment to one another in a permanent and faithful relationship which lasts for life. Within this secure relationship men and women can make joint decisions about their life together, including having children. It is a tragedy that some people do not have happy marriages because they have become violent or oppressive. All men and women need preparation before taking on marriage commitments and learning to love and respect each other. It is important that men are taught from an early age that men and women are equal in God’s sight and that decisions that affect them both should be joint decisions.

Responsible parenting Within such relationships, spacing children so that mother and child are both healthy and flourishing, is important. How big a family a couple have is their own decision. Tearfund is against population control programmes or aggressive contraceptive programmes which take these decisions away from the families concerned. However, God’s blessing of fertility does not mean that we should necessarily have unlimited numbers of children. Married couples who do wish to limit their family size by using contraceptives, or by other natural or traditional methods, should be able to see such decisions as part of the stewardship of their lives. Decisions about which method to use must be left with those concerned, so that these are personally, culturally and morally appropriate.

Abortion Decisions about child spacing are very different from decisions about abortion, which is always and everywhere a tragedy, both in terms of the life destroyed and the health of the mother. It is therefore very important to separate discussion about family spacing from discussion about abortion. We welcome the statement from the Cairo World Conference on Population that ‘abortion should never be used as a method of birth control’.

Young people Young people have special needs – especially if they are growing up in urban areas where they may be cut off from cultural traditions about family life. They need opportunities to learn and discuss openly, against a background of Christian teaching, issues such as sexuality, gender and family life. Providing counsellors is very important.

The role of churches All too often, churches do little or nothing in the way of teaching about sensitive issues. However, it is vital that churches take time to develop a positive vision for human relationships. Otherwise the church may end up simply reacting to difficult situations by being negative and having little impact on the community. Pastors, counsellors and lay leaders need to receive training and resources to enable them to teach, counsel and lead in these areas.

A sensitive approach

Tearfund’s approach to population issues is based on an understanding of what the Bible says about these issues. Tearfund aims to support its partners throughout the world who should feel free to develop their own approach in a way which is sensitive to the local culture and needs. Although Tearfund does not act independently, these are such sensitive and important issues that time has been set aside to think them through and to form clear guidelines. This article summarises the ten point policy document that Tearfund has produced – copies are available from the Teddington office. Tearfund trusts that by working in partnership with organisations around the world, people can be enabled to make their own decisions about their lives and to face the future with hope.

Tearfund’s population policy document is based on a recent study by Roy McCloughry, who works for the Kingdom Trust.

Discussion Starters

  • Do you have opportunities to discuss openly issues of population, family spacing and sexual behaviour within your family, with your friends or within your community? If the answer to any of these is no, can you think of ways of providing such opportunities?
  • What kind of teaching and support is available to young people within your community to help them think through important and sometimes embarrassing issues in a relaxed and open situation?
  • What is your church’s teaching on important moral issues?
  • Does the present availability of family spacing teaching and methods provide people with sufficient choice to make their own decisions. If not, are there any ways of improving this situation?
  • Do young people receive well established cultural teaching on matters such as sexual responsibility, marriage and behaviour? Or are they confused by the contrasts between this and liberal western attitudes seen on TV? Do parents provide good role models?

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