The following is an interesting Editorial which deals with the call for women to ‘breed’!
The need to preserve our current social security system may be regarded as paramount if we are minded to maintain a reasonable standard of existence in future for our more vulnerable citizens. Hence, we suppose, the recent concerns expressed by the Labour Minister with regard to the viability of the sickness benefit scheme if claims continued at the present rates and the suggestions made over time for there to be an increase in births to offset the costs attached to the probable number of elderly citizens receiving pensions in the immediate future. In a scenario of declining birth rates, there will naturally arise a growing gap between the working age population that fund these programmes and the elderly who avail of them.
And while we are not yet at a crisis stage comparatively speaking; for example in 2013 Italy had a fertility rate of 1.4 with 14% only of its population under 15 and 21 % at 65 and older, and Japan with an identical fertility rate numbered 13% and 24% respectively, a declining birth rate in Barbados currently with a fertility rate of 1.84, may see us reaching a similar predicament in the near future.
The call for an increase in the number of children produced locally is not new. Many years ago, one recalls the self-styled “Cement Man” on the call-in radio programmes publicly exhorting our women to “breed, breed”, although we do not now recall whether it was effected for reasons of social security sustainability purely or for a mere increase in population numbers.
There was a later endorsement of that call to childbearing arms, and more recently repeated, by the Honourable Minister of Education, Mr Ronald Jones, who predicted danger for the country in the next fifty years if our current fertility rate is maintained.
The debate has been joined in the last two weeks by two religious leaders lending public support to the proposal, although with clear conditions in both cases. First, pastor and Senator, Dr David Durant, suggested that the state may have to consider “giving a monetary incentive to married couples to have more children”. Perhaps the Senator is unaware, but Barbados law no longer makes a distinction between partnerships with the so-called “benefit of clergy” and those not so favoured for purposes of some family rights. Both the Succession Act 1979 and the Family Law Act 1981 recognize certain property rights in couples who have cohabited for a stipulated period of time in a “union other than marriage”. Moreover, the Status of Children Act 1975 put paid to the notion of improperly so described “illegitimate children” -the progeny of unmarried parents.
The issue has been further pursued by Roman Catholic priest, Father Clement Paul OP. In an intriguingly ironic, though understandable spiel, he blames the Barbados Family Planning Association and the local termination of pregnancy statute for the low fertility rate in Barbados. He endorses the call for a taxpayer-funded program to increase the number of children, although he also cautions that it must be done in a marital union only.
We do not agree that any public benefits should be provided on a basis restricted to those of traditional marital status when the ultimate objective is for all couples to assist the state to manage the viability of its social security system in the foreseeable future. For one, it smacks too much of a theocratic fiat in a secular constitutional democracy, for another it would be a discriminatory and hence unlawful exclusion from state assets under existing law.