Pregnancy on Pause | Population decline fears
While some Jamaican teens are celebrating turning 16 years old by getting pregnant, more and more Jamaican women with solid educational backgrounds and strong stable incomes are choosing to delay or shun motherhood totally, sparking fears that the country could face a population decline in the coming years.
"Technically or theoretically speaking, we could actually get to a point where we are not replacing our population," warned Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton.
Population decline is currently facing several developed countries, and this is being attributed to an unprecedented level of childlessness, among other things.
Denmark and Japan are among countries where officials have introduced campaigns in recent years to encourage couples to start having children.
Data from the 2016 Economic and Social Survey produced by the Planning Institute of Jamaica shows that the number of Jamaicans in the 0-4 age group has been steadily declining.
The number of persons in that age group moved from 195,400 in 2013 to 182,400 in 2016.
"Over the last decade, there has been a consistent decline in the number of live births, from 43,200 to an estimate of 36,000 in 2016, the lowest recorded number of live births.
"This estimate represents a crude birth rate of 13.2 births per 1,000 population and reflected a decline relative to the previous year," read the survey.
The crude birth rate is the number of live births occurring among the population during a given year, per 1,000 of the total population.
"In real practical terms, (population decline) happens and is happening in other jurisdictions," Tufton told a roomful of health professionals and expectant mothers recently, during the launch of a parenting initiative at the Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit.
"I remember eight years ago I was in Guyana, and Guyana had a population of a million people or just about, and two years ago I went to Guyana and the population was like 800,000, so they were actually declining," noted Tufton.
NOT IN NEAR FUTURE
He argued that while Jamaica is not likely to be in this position in the near future, it is a matter worthy of consideration as the reality is that particularly middle-income families are having fewer children.
"Some people say it is because of the effectiveness of the two is better than too many campaign," he charged.
The campaign referenced was introduced in the 1970s by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) to promote responsible parenting. Jamaica's fertility rate has dropped from 5.48 when the campaign was launched to 2.4 in 2008.
According to Tufton, members of Jamaica's middle class "have bought into that two is better than too many campaign in a way that they are having only one or none".
"That is the segment of the population that has to some extent, to a large extent, the earning capacity to afford to support children, but that's the segment of the population that has chosen, for one reason or another, that they are not going to have the replacement value equivalent," he said.
On the contrary, the minister finds that individuals who can least afford to support their children are the ones giving birth.
"So those persons that we see, that are having more, even at a declining rate are at the low socio-economic levels of the population, and of course we have no policy on the restrictions of the number of children you have, or should have, based on your economic status, that is not a government policy at all," said Tufton.
He revealed that the NFPB is working on a campaign to encourage responsible behaviour and responsible parenting.
"There is a genuine issue, concern about the process of providing the guidance and sustainability after birth," he contended.
Jamaica's crude birth rate moved from 14.7 per 100 population in 2011 to the 13.2 recorded in 2016, and Tufton is adamant that population decline is something which must be assessed.
"From a developmental perspective, it is a challenge to the welfare and well-being of your country. It is an issue that has to be examined, it is an issue that has to be studied and it is an issue that has to be determined on from a public policy perspective," said Tufton.