When children are viewed as future pension funds

By Nina Steele 

In December last year, a twitter user posted this reply to one of my tweets: “kids in Africa are the equivalent of a pension scheme for the parents. In the West, government provides a pension”. This was in response to the article I wrote for the Mail & Guardian Africa, entitled: ‘Why the stigma attached to being childless in Africa is far greater than in the West’.

Yes having children in Africa and most other poor parts of the world is not just about the love that people have for children, but also, what these children may offer in the future. It is a fact that is deeply embedded in those cultures. I remember my mother saying to me recently that she is glad she had many children, because had she had just 2 or 3, who would be taking care of her today?

That is because, although my mother has 7 children, only 2 of us are successful and as a result, are able to help her financially. This is why the stigma attached to being childless in Africa is so great. Being childless not only makes you a pariah in some communities (especially rural ones), but it also leaves you believing that one of your chances of moving up in life has been taken away.

At least, whatever you say about the stigma attached to being childless in the West, money does not feature so prominently. Because, as the twitter user so rightly put it, in the West, Governments provide you with a pension!

When people have to fight to eat, money becomes a very big deal and many see having children, as a way of alleviating some of that pain. Child labour is an accepted part of life in most poor countries. Children as young as 5, work on fields or sell goods on the street or at the local markets, with the money handled by their parents, mostly to be used for everyday living.

It does not matter that the birth rate in places like Africa is already very high. Choosing not to have children is not an option. And I suspect that it will remain so, for as long as there will be poverty. All the people I know, who are originally from the Third World, send money to relatives they have left behind. It is part of the culture. With no welfare state, children become the most valuable assets.

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