Why have children if you cannot afford them?

By Nina Steele 

As someone of African descent, that is a question I often ask myself. I grew up in a culture where it is ok for anyone to have children regardless of whether they can look after those children or not. As a result, many children are born to parents who not only do not have the finances to look after them, but many are also emotionally not up to the job. What you end up with as a result of this very selfish act, is children who grow up with all the odds stuck against them. According to recent estimates, there could be as many as 100 million street children around the world, a great number of those children are to be found in Africa.

Growing up in a family of 7, all of us raised mainly by our mother, money was tight most of the time. My family wasn’t unique in that sense. In fact, everywhere I looked, it was the same picture. Either single mothers struggling to make ends meet, or children born to couples who also could barely afford them. It was and still is a case of ‘have children, then work out later how to feed them’.

I remember asking one of my cousins who used to live in a bedsit with his 6 children and wife, why he saw it fit to have so many children, when he obviously could not afford them. He laughed. He couldn’t give me a credible answer so he chose to laugh instead. Here was a man with no job, yet he believed it was ok to keep having children and never once did anyone in the family challenge him on that. Why? Because of course others in the family were also having children they could not afford.

Mind you, this phenomenon is not confined to Africa and the developing world alone. There are many people here in the West who are having children they cannot afford. The most extreme cases are often splashed across the tabloids. Depressingly, in the West, it is the benefit system that picks up the tab for people’s folly. That is equally damaging because children born to families where all the adults rely on benefit, are likely to believe that living this way is acceptable and end up on the dole as adults themselves.

Our obsession with procreation is making many people blind to the fact that having children is a decision not to be taken lightly. Growing up in a difficult environment can damage a child irretrievably, yet no one seem to care. It is true that many people born in poverty have gone on to make something of their lives, but equally, many have failed because of the scars of their childhood.

Yes a change of culture is needed in order to make people realise that having children for the sake of having them is wrong. What happens to them in childhood is most certainly going to impact the rest of their lives. So don’t be selfish, think about the bigger picture and only have children if you can afford them.

Children living in the slums in Africa

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