It seems that many of the global problems humanity is facing are due to the fact that our home, Earth, is being overpopulated. Since the Industrial Revolution, the world population has increased its size dramatically. While longevity is on the rise and the overall quality of life has improved significantly, we are far from eradicating hunger, crime, pollution, abuse and neglect. For a large portion of the world population, one or all of the above are a daily reality.
About 963 million people across the world suffer hunger (The Food Secutity Statistics, 2008), which is recognized as the most severe form of poverty (Hunger Report, 2004). This strikingly big number may sound unreal to those of us who have just enjoyed our delicious Starbucks treat. Even worse, we might have been desensitized to numbers ranging in the millions, or even billions, as we see them in the same sentence with bailout, debt, loan, equity, and so forth. In this case however, the number is as real as can be. 963 million people – each of these lives as important and meaningful as the next one. To begin to understand these statistics better, let’s break the numbers down: each day, about 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes (Black, Robert, Morris, Saul, & Jennifer Bryce. “Where and Why Are 10 Million Children Dying Every Year?” 2003). This means, one child perishes every five seconds, due to hunger. The more specific causes for these deaths might be chronic undernourishment, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which, in turn, lead to heightened susceptibility to illness (Hunger Report, 2004).
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) starts its 2008 Annual Report with the following sentence: “Drugs, crime and terrorism remain three of the greatest threats to the peace, security and well-being of humanity”. Sadly, there is little place to argue the opposite. The number of inmates, in the US alone, is compelling: 2,310,984 (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008). This is a 0.8% increase from the number of 2007. However, the average annual growth from 2000 until 2007 was 2.4%. This means we have an estimated 509 sentenced prisoners per every 100,000 US residents. The number of female inmates is also rising, with numerous cases of pregnant inmates, whose inborn child never stood a chance of starting a ‘normal’ life.
When issues like these continue to describe our modern reality, i cannot help but wonder: Why do people have children? What is a good reason to have a child?
We addressed these question to students in an Introductory Psychology class. The responses were truly puzzling: “To have someone carry your name”, “To have a part of you stay after you’re gone”, “To keep a guy”, “To make your marriage work” and so on.
I stood there, in disbelief, shocked to hear what these young and smart people identified as the ‘reasons’ to have a child. Are these really good reasons for a commitment of this magnitude? If we are so desperate to have someone carry our name, aren’t we being purely egoistic? If we need to carry our genotype forward, we are certainly guided by evolutionary principles, but is this a good enough reason? If it takes a baby to make any guy stay with you, you might want to wonder if this guy is worth keeping, to begin with. If anything, a baby can be a strain on any happy marriage and is rarely prescribed as a remedial for a bad one. So, are these the right reasons? If college students, who thought about the issue, considered these their reasons, I am petrified to know what other people might say. Or do people even think about it? Has it just become the ‘normal’ thing to do – a routine of sorts – find a relationship, build a home, have children? Is it merely what our society considers appropriate? Is it something we do to feel good about ourselves? I hear parents taking such pride in the fact they have given life to another human being; people who think giving life is enough of itself and fail to look for their flaws when it comes to parenting. Is this mature and is it fair to the little person who is yet to come into this world and become part of the statistics (which statistics, we could not know yet)?
I happen to think that a good reason to have a child is the desire and possibility to raise a person of quality, who will contribute to society and might as well make the world a better place. I don’t find it trendy and I don’t think it’s cute either. It is a serious matter of life and the greatest of all responsibilities. For this to be a success, one has to have a good game-plan. All of this, of course, has to be backed up by sincere love, commitment and stability. I do not mean to sound grotesque, or oversimplify complicated situations, but I sincerely believe this is an issue that each of us needs to consider very seriously and make a conscious decision. It would be sad, if something wonderful like a child would be something unwanted and unwelcome. As a professor of mine said: Imagine what a different place this world would be, if in order for a woman to conceive, both parents had to hold hands, look each other in the eyes and repeat thee times ‘I want to have a baby. I want to have a baby. I want to have a baby’ (M.J. Grant). What a different place that would be, indeed. Also, I do not think it is simply enough to give life (any living form can do this). More important is what we do to the life we have given. Do we abuse, or empower? Do we nurture, or neglect? Do we practice effective parenting, or do we fail miserably to connect?
Roger McIntire remarks: “We already license pilots, salesmen, scuba divers, plumbers, electricians, teachers, veterinarians, cab drivers, soil testers and television repairmen. … Are our TV sets and toilets more important to us than our children?” We even need marriage licenses! Then, why do we assume that our right to be parents is absolute and why do we take it so lightly? It is not an absolute right, it ought to be a privilege. Roger McIntire suggests further that licensing parents could be as simple as when you turn 18, you get the book and study it or take the course, then you take the written test, and the eye test, and if you pass, you get a beginner’s license, then you do some hands-on child care for maybe six months under the guidance of a licensed parent, and if you pass that part, you get your license, and if you don’t, maybe you try again in a while. We do it for almost anything else, why should this serious matter be any different?
There are millions of people in this world, who suffer starvation, diseases, low quality of life; millions of people who are being killed, abused or otherwise traumatized. If we are going to bring one more such life into the world, we have plenty already – why not try to take care of one of those.
The creation of life is a moral matter and requires serious moral examination, so ask yourself: Why have children?