Philip P. Eapen
Copyright 2012 Philip P. Eapen
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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:2 NRSV
The second verse of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is a popular text among Bible-believing Christians. And yet, many sincere Christians think that this verse is just about fashions, hair styles and makeup, cinema, and beauty pageants. Many of us fail to see the ungodliness and foolishness inherent in the world’s current fashion of prolonging adolescence, postponing or avoiding marriage, and delaying conception. To make matters worse, we in India have accepted the myth of overpopulation as gospel truth. Population control (government imposed norms), as opposed to family planning (voluntary spacing of children), has become an unwritten doctrine. Yet, we fail to see the “worldliness” in these.
Bitten by the “population bug,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, India’s former Union Minister for Health said, “An 18-year-old girl and a 21-year-old boy who haven’t achieved anything in life are not meant to get married.”(1) The minister, like most Indian grown-ups, hasn’t realised that an 18-year-old woman is not a “girl” and that a 21-year-old man is not a “boy.” If he wants to see his sons and/or daughters as toddlers all the days of their life, he is free to do so. But if he extends that to all young adults of India, we’ll have a real problem at hand.
Moreover, marriage, according to the honourable minister, is only for those who have achieved something in life. In case you are listening, Sir, just surviving till the age of 18 or 21 in India is an achievement in itself. Marriage is not just for achievers. Obviously, the minister wants Indian families to have lesser number of children. To that end, he now recommends that young adults delay their wedding until they “achieve” something. My contention here is that we should not become ghulams, slaves, of an illusion that fertility is forever.
Ask any urban young man or woman what the ideal age for marriage is, and you will most probably get figures above twenty-five (for women) and above thirty (for men). In cosmopolitan cities of India, women, including Christians, find it difficult to think of getting married before thirty.
Is there an ideal age for a man or a woman to enter married life? Many believe that the ‘ideal’ age for entering wedlock varies from person to person. The people to whom I spoke consider several parameters or factors before arriving at a suitable age for entering wedlock. Completion of studies, financial independence through a stable job or a profitable business or profession, achievement of certain financial or career goals, et cetera. Indeed, the age at which people realize these goals vary. If an ‘ideal’ age for marriage should depend on these variables, it is difficult to arrive at a generalized figure.
There may be many who think that physical age is not what matters. They might think that a person should be ‘emotionally mature’ before they marry. At what age do people attain emotional maturity? Who defines emotional maturity and what is the standard against which we may measure our emotional maturity levels? Again, we run up against a wall that we cannot scale. Some might say that it is nonsense to talk of attaining maturity. Each individual has a certain level of maturity at each age, and they should be content with it. Who would want to be in their seventies, at the height of some abstract ‘emotional maturity’ before he considers marriage?
Education, career, ownership of a house or vehicle, financial stability … the age at which one attains these varies. For instance, a scientist may earn a Ph.D. by the age of twenty-six; however, a theologian may top-off his education with a Ph.D. at the age of forty. My contention is that we cannot and should not let educational, career or financial goals to decide the age at which we marry. There is a better indicator – a natural, scientific indicator – that should tell us when our young women and men ought to consider marriage. In a sea of variables, there is one relatively reliable parameter. And that is the biological clock that God has placed in our bodies.
The Bible clearly teaches us that one of the goals of marriage is to prevent sexual immorality. “Yes, it is good to live a celibate life. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should not deprive his wife of sexual intimacy, which is her right as a married woman, nor should the wife deprive her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:1b-3 NLT)
Indeed, Apostle Paul wrote that instruction for the benefit of Corinthian Christians who lived in a society that glorified immorality. Is the society that you and I belong to any different? We live in a world that glorifies immorality. Sex is not the problem; sexual immorality is. This passage is therefore relevant to our situation too.
If a mutually satisfying marriage is the Bible’s antidote to the immorality that threatens to swallow us, why are our teachers and preachers not recommending marriage on this ground? Those of us who have worked among adolescents and youth know that one of the greatest challenges they face is to live a life of purity. “Victorious Christian Living;” “A Holy Vessel;” “How to overcome sin?” etc., are common themes in our youth camps. Preachers preach about a holy life and go home to their wives. But the young people who listen to their sermons continue to battle storms of passion that break apart their lives. They fail often in the realm of sexual purity. They walk around carrying loads of guilt, bowed down by their inability to live a “holy life.” Have you heard any preacher prescribing marriage – a mutually satisfying married life – as the medicine that will give victory and happiness to those in late teens and early twenties? I have not!
Recently a Christian technocrat in his mid-twenties wrote to me seeking counsel regarding maintaining a pure life. When I suggested marriage, he protested that it was too early for him to marry. With what do I compare such young people who turn their backs on a legitimate, God-ordained prescription for their divinely-scripted drives? They are like starving vagabonds who drool at food kept in shops or restaurants. All they need to do is return to their own homes and feast on what is legitimately their own.
Young man, young woman, what is the right age for you to consider marriage? I would say, when you are old enough to commit sexual immorality, you are old enough to consider marriage. This is why I was happy when I heard that officials at the Central government in India proposed to lower men’s legal age for marriage to eighteen.
Justice Chauhan, Chairman of the Law Commission stated thus in his report on Reform of Family Law:
If a universal age for majority is recognised, and that grants all citizens the right to choose their governments, surely, they must then be also considered capable of choosing their spouses. For equality in the true sense, the insistence on recognising different ages of marriage between consenting adults must be abolished. The age of majority must be recognised uniformly as the legal age for marriage for men and women alike as is determined by the Indian Majority Act, 1875, i.e. eighteen years of age.(2)
If only our politicians and religious leaders had a fraction of Justice Chauhan’s good sense, things would have been better! The people of the world seek every impure way to satisfy their passions. A godly young person must turn to God’s way to stay pure and to appreciate God’s gifts in legitimate ways. That divine and legitimate provision is marriage.
Oh, then, what about a job? Should not a man support his family? Yes, indeed, every man ought to support his family. The problem is not that our young people cannot find a job or a means to live. The problem is that most of us are not willing to take up available jobs or economic opportunities. We push our youth to expect a “dream job.” And they pursue that jackpot at the end of some rainbow till they are old and infertile.
And that brings me to the second part of my discussion on biological clock—fertility. Theoretically, men can raise a family at any age. The ground reality may be different in most cases! How about women? Can they afford to postpone marriage and childbearing till some arbitrary age when they might fulfil their educational or career goals?
A whole generation of women (and men) is fooling itself beyond measure! An increasing number of men and women in India realise that they cannot have children when it is already too late. The rising number of fertility clinics is a testimony to that. (I do concede that all cases of infertility are not due to deliberate delays. Many are.)
Biologically speaking, the peak time of female fertility extends from late teenage to early twenties. That is the time when the best eggs are released. As most of us know, women do not produce eggs but are born with a certain set that matures and get released from time to time. There is a definite correlation between fertility and the quality of eggs. This is why it is said that the best age to have the first child is in the late teens or early twenties. Time and fertility wait for no one!
Deirdre Macken, Allen & Unwin have clearly portrayed this scenario in their candid book Oh No! We Forgot To Have Children. Let me quote them:
“The news that the fertility window is smaller than imagined – stretching little more than fifteen years after a woman’s 21st birthday – is especially hard to grasp in an era when all other life stages are getting longer. The period of adolescence, or adulescence as some refer to it, now lasts till the late twenties, with youth staying in education longer, travelling the world, dropping in and out of jobs and living at home longer. The other end of life is also elongating …
“Against these elongated life stages, it seems cruel to be told that the fertility window of opportunity is small, tighter than most imagined and that even technology won’t make it much bigger. Moreover, those 30-something-year-olds who have remained fit and healthy find it hard to believe that their reproductive fitness is not as good as their well-honed abdominal muscles. When many 30-something-year-olds can still look like a 20-something-year-old, run marathons like an East African and have a diet rich in sushi, it’s hard to convince them that their ovaries and testes aren’t as easily buffed to perfection.
“The concept that reproductive biology can be managed, scheduled, manipulated, ramped up and switched on and off as many times as you want is understandable given the sort of information in the media. … Few are told that all this wiggling and tracking down tubes had a finite life; that sperm would become weak swimmers and the egg would have trouble getting through to the uterus and that this crotchety middle age of sperm and ova would begin sooner than we thought …”(3)
I can’t get more candid than that!
The Bible says that the primary purpose of marriage is sexual intimacy and reproduction. Yes, you heard me right. All other purposes that marriage serves – companionship, spiritual support, financial support, etc. – can be met even without marriage. This is why marriage is primarily physical. God did not make a mistake when he defined marriage in physical terms in Genesis 2:24. Besides, God told Israel that His expectation from every marriage was “a godly offspring.”(4) Of course, there are couples who cannot reproduce due to reasons beyond their control. But that’s the exception and not the rule. We derive our principles from the rule, not from exceptions.
If we get this principle right, then our young men and women will marry at such an age that permits each woman to have her first child in her late teens or early twenties. You can pursue higher studies at any age; you may work and study part-time. Advances in career and education can be attained in the late twenties or thirties. Money can come at any time. Healthy children won’t! Emotional maturity will eventually set in, according to the demands of life. A 22-year-old mother may be more mature than a 30-year-old single woman. Those who wait long enough to marry, till they are emotionally mature, might miss the bus of parenthood.
It is indeed surprising that the Indian government has revived its program of “population control”—as if humans are pests to be controlled. The First World worries about their declining population while we, in countries such as India, especially in crowded cities, tend to believe the lie that the globe is over-populated. Crowding is just that–crowding. Crowding is not over-population. If the world is indeed overpopulated, why is the western world giving incentives to their people for having more children? Wake up, India, and think! Jaago re, jaago!
When God created man, He created them male and female. He then blessed them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”(5) This blessing gives human beings a mandate to multiply in numbers and to subdue the earth. The meaning and rationale of human dominion has received wide attention from a variety of Christian and Jewish scholars. I would like to examine the relevance of the mandate for human multiplication in the light of current concerns raised by environmentalists and economists regarding an “explosive” population growth that threatens to lead the whole world into deep trouble. These concerns and the resultant projects initiated to “control” population growth would then be examined for their relevance and credibility. Initially, this work examines the views held by God’s people on this subject as expressed in the Bible.
First, I shall attempt to identify the views held by the writers of the Bible, or Israelites in general, about human procreation, about a growing population and its economic ramifications. This is an attempt to understand Israel’s views in context and to explore Israel’s motivations behind her stated views.
The Bible, at first reading, gives the impression that the people of God portrayed in its pages counted children as a blessing. Multiplication in numbers was seen in a positive light. As a psalmist sang,
“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”(6)
Israelites regarded children as a national treasure. They regarded happy children at play as a symbol of national well-being just as they saw weddings as a symbol of peace and prosperity.(7)
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.’”(8)
Similarly, the presence of bridegrooms and brides indicate weddings. When God foretold the destruction of His people, He proclaimed through Jeremiah that weddings would cease.(9) When God promised a restoration of His people, He said that weddings would once again take place in the land, and that boys and girls would once again play in the streets.(10)
Moses concluded his presentation of God’s Law to the people of Israel by motivating them to obey God. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity… I command you today to love the LORD your God … that you may live and multiply”.(11) It is interesting to note that life and prosperity are clubbed together in this verse.
Similarly, in a society where barren women were vulnerable to oppression and ridicule,(12) a Hebrew psalmist recounted how God blesses barren women with children.
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, To make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people. He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children. Praise the LORD!”(13)
The psalm echoes Hannah’s exultation after Samuel was born.(14) Here, the elevation of a barren woman to the blessed state of motherhood was considered no less an act of God compared to the elevation of a poor man from his ash heap to the portals of royal power.
Israel’s enthusiasm for a growing population was not shared by all nations of ancient times. The Atrahasis epic of the Babylonians describes how the gods considered humans as pests, and how they inflicted humankind with plagues to control their population:
“Twelve hundred years had not yet passed
When the land extended and the people multiplied.
The land was bellowing like a bull,
The god got disturbed with their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise
And addressed the great gods:
The noise of mankind has become
too much for me,
With their noise I am deprived of sleep.
Let there be a pestilence (upon mankind).”(15)
Cohen cites the complaint of Han Fei-Tzu, who lived in the region of modern Iraq around 500 BC:
“People at present think that five sons are not too many and each son has five sons also, and before the death of the grandfather there are already 25 descendants. Therefore people are more and wealth is less; they work hard and receive little.”(16)
The ancient Greek philosophers too preferred some degree of state control over human population. Plato was paternalistic in his attitude and wanted his ideal Republic to control marriages and procreation.(17) It was proposed that people should gain the state’s permission before they married or had children; the “best” men would be paired with the “best” women.(18) Plato’s advocacy for eugenics obviously predates the spread of this detestable practice in Europe in the 20th century. There’s nothing new under the sun! Although Plato desired that the best men should have “as many sons as possible,” he wanted to “prevent the State from becoming either too large or too small.”(19) Aristotle, however, thought that one of Plato’s cardinal mistakes was that he had not prescribed any means to “restrict the increase of population.”(20) Aristotle wished for a state that had “large enough” land inhabited by a population “as small as we can make it”—a desire that is not uncommon among modern people. What was the motive behind Aristotle’s prescription? An “abundance of leisure” and resources for the state’s citizens!(21)
Anxiety about increasing numbers of fellow humans is clearly not a modern phenomenon. Even in ancient times when communities or individuals moaned about increasing population and about the resultant fragmentation of land holdings, Israelites held a positive attitude towards human multiplication! Therefore, Israel’s perspective should not be brushed aside as that from a primitive age when all people in all countries favoured large families. It is worthwhile to examine the reasons behind Israel’s positive attitude towards multiplication and the factors that motivated God’s people to have larger families.
The creation mandate that appears in the initial chapters of the Bible gives us a general picture of what the people of God in Old Testament times thought about an increasing population. God blessed the first man and his wife with the ability to procreate and commanded them to multiply.
“God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”(22)
A couple’s joyful decision to procreate or a community’s celebration of the arrival of a new-born was probably validated and strengthened by this cultural mandate. As a command given to the first parents, this command has universal scope and therefore is not limited to Abraham’s descendants. A desire to obey this first divine command must have under-girded Israel’s agenda for multiplication.
After the great flood, God commanded Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”(23) God ensured that human life was protected, through a divine legislation, from acts of murder committed by fellow humans or animals.(24) God repeated the command,
“As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”(25)
Growth in population was of great significance to the ancient nation of Israel. This was especially because God chose one man, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, to build a nation. God declared to Abraham that He would make him “a great nation”(26) and that He would give the land of Canaan to his descendants.(27) Many years later, God commanded Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, soon after assigning a new name “Israel” to him,
“I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you.”(28)
The fulfilment of God’s covenant depended on the continuity of Abraham’s lineage. Therefore, it was vital for Israel to multiply and thereby to ensure their survival. Malachi, in his prophecy against post-exilic Jews who divorced their wives, insisted that God’s intention behind the institution of marriage was to give rise to a godly offspring.(29)
While still small in number, this covenant community or family felt insecure in the midst of other numerically stronger people. Reacting strongly against Levi’s and Simeon’s violent attack on a neighbouring town, their father Jacob said:
“You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.”(30)
This verse clearly brings out Jacob’s insecurity and his rationale for having a large family of thirteen children. Strength in numbers mattered! By the time Jacob died in Egypt, he left behind a large family of sixty nine members excluding his daughters-in-law.(31)
This strategic military aspect of a strong population was probably the strongest motivating factor that fuelled Israel’s aggressive multiplication. David, Israel’s monarch, felt the need to find assurance in numbers.(32)
“In a multitude of people is a king’s glory, but in the dearth of people is a prince’s ruin.”(33)
King David commissioned a census to determine the number of “valiant men who drew the sword.”(34) God counted this act a sin and punished David and his nation by slaughtering 70,000 of his men.(35) This was God’s way of forcing Israel to trust in Him and not in their numbers. Besides, it highlights God’s role in sustaining and regulating a population. He does that mostly by his supreme control over the life span of every individual.
God was directly involved in the multiplication of His people and in the governance of their population. Even though God commanded His people to multiply in numbers, the Bible does not give us the impression that the domain of human multiplication is exclusively and entirely controlled by human decisions. Men and women indeed have their roles to play in reproduction, and they enjoy a certain degree of freedom to make choices. They can indeed choose to abstain from reproduction—with varying degrees of success. They also can choose a convenient time or season for reproduction unlike some forms of life that reproduce only in certain seasons. Yet, the Bible tells us that God has the ultimate control over human population at any given time through His active control over human fertility, sex ratio and over the life span of individuals.
The Blessing of Multiplication: The following passages highlight Israel’s faith in God’s direct involvement and determined will in multiplying His people who are faithful to Him. God said to Abraham:
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”(36)
God assured Hagar concerning Ishmael:
“I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count."(37)
God promised Isaac:
“I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven.”(38)
God promised to protect Israelite women from miscarriage:
“There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfil the number of your days.”(39)
Even though people have procreative powers, these would be useless unless God blesses them individually and takes care of all the determinants that affect their chances of multiplication. Not all of these determinants are under the direct control of individual families or communities or nations. The various determinants of human multiplication include, but are not limited to:
Unless God takes care of all these and other determinants, a couple’s decision to procreate is in vain. A Hebrew psalmist stated it succinctly:
“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.”(40)
The understanding that God is in control over human multiplication is reflected in Israel’s prayers, blessings, and narratives too. A psalmist blessed his people saying,
“May the LORD give you increase, you and your children."(41)
Isaac blessed Jacob, fully realising God’s role in multiplying His people,
“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.”(42)
Boaz took Ruth as his wife and lived with her. The writer of Ruth notes that
“the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son”(43)
instead of viewing the conception as a “natural” outcome of conjugal life.
Divine Judgement: Just as the Lord God demonstrated His power over human fertility through the blessing of children, He demonstrated his displeasure towards a disobedient people by nullifying their fertility. Hosea prophesied: “As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird—No birth, no pregnancy and no conception!”(44) God also destroyed the children of His rebellious people using wild animals,(45), military siege, and famine.(46) God warned that a disobedient people would end up eating their own children—an act diametrically opposed to the spirit of procreation and multiplication.(47)
When Israel left Egypt they had grown to the strength of six hundred thousand excluding children. Exodus and Numbers put the figure precisely at 603550 after a census in the Wilderness of Sinai.(48) Those below the age of 20 years were excluded. Forty years later, towards the end of their wanderings in the wilderness, they numbered 601730.(49) This figure too excludes those under 20 years of age. There was no increase in their population because everyone among those who were counted in the previous census in the Wilderness of Sinai – except Joshua and Caleb – died in the desert as a result of their unbelief.(50)
It is worth noting that God decided to kill the entire Israelite nation – save Joshua, Caleb, and those under 20 – when ten of the twelve spies gave an unfavourable report out of their unbelief.(51) And yet, God did not kill the entire community all at once. He executed his sentence over a period of forty years. As a result, those under condemnation could multiply and leave behind a replacement population. Had God killed the guilty on a single day or over a short period of time, the people of the covenant might not have had a fair chance for survival in the desert or in the land of Canaan. At the end of the forty years of their journey, therefore, the population of Israel remained almost the same as it had been when they had set out of Egypt.
This is a good example that illustrates God’s direct involvement in human affairs, even to regulate human population. It was beyond Moses or other leaders of the community to worry about the maintenance of an ideal population in the desert in the face of divine judgement. The Creator of Life, the One who has power over the life span of individuals, was in a better position to regulate and control Israel’s population than any human leader or demographer. Even today, who are the people who indulge in worrying about “population explosion”? It is those who do not have faith in an almighty God who is imminent enough to be closely involved in human affairs.
The understanding of fertility as God’s blessing might make it difficult for at least some people to comprehend how ungodly people manage to multiply themselves. David’s psalm may be cited to show how God blesses even the wicked with children who are fortunate enough to inherit treasures from their parents.
“Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword … From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure; They are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes.”(52)
However, this verse is a difficult text for translators.(53) The New International Version and Peter C. Craigie feel that the “treasure” refers to God’s favoured people; God’s blessings are not for the wicked but for God’s favoured ones.
Craigie renders this verse as follows:
“Kill them by your hand, O Lord! Kill them from the world, their portion from among the living. But your treasured ones!—you will fill their belly, sons will be sated, and they will bequeath their surplus to their children."(54)
This rendition, along with that of the NIV, is more in line with the psalmist’s theme of vindication, and with the general Old Testament understanding about divine blessings upon God’s people.(55)
God’s blessings related to fertility and multiplication promised to His people do not, however, prevent those outside the covenant from multiplying. One is reminded of Jesus’ statement: “[God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”(56) This general rule does not necessarily contradict God’s just decisions, from time to time, to withdraw rain from His people in order to chastise them.(57) Neither does it stifle His sovereign will to demonstrate His power through sending rain when it is least expected.(58)
Besides, it would be inappropriate to think that every barren woman in the world is under God’s judgement—though some may be rightly so. However, nothing should prevent them from deriving comfort and encouragement from God’s promises regarding fertility or from God’s miracles that caused barren women to be happy mothers.
The Israelites of old valued children greatly and they zealously multiplied even while they struggled under the most stressful conditions of slavery.
"… the more they [the Egyptians] afflicted them, the more they [Israelites] multiplied …."(59)
Their multiplication caused great alarm to their Egyptian masters who eventually ordered the killing of all male babies born to the Hebrews.(60) This probably was the earliest recorded state-level concern, coloured by racism, over the growth of a particular population. And, this probably was the first state-sponsored murderous “population control” measure and the only one of its kind recorded in the Bible.
On the whole, the Bible reveals that the Israelites had a positive outlook about human multiplication. Worry about how to provide for a growing population was probably the last thing on their minds even when they were slaves in dire straits.
I ventured to find out whether any leader Church leader or theologian was worried about human multiplication and population growth. However, I did not find many Christian thinkers of old who wrote about population growth.
It’s a shame that Tertullian, a Christian scholar who lived around AD 200, considered the population of his time a burden for the planet:
“What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”(61)
Creager used this argument to promote population control.(62)
Tertullian used the concept of human multiplication to refute Pythagorean theories of re-incarnation. His views on the growth of human population are unfortunate, to say the least. Even if it were in the context of refuting re-incarnation, how could a Christian see part of humanity as dispensable commodity? Would he have declared natural calamities and war a blessing if he were on his deathbed as a result of a famine or a pestilence?
It is estimated that the world population during Tertullian’s time was between 190(63) and 256(64) million – just a fraction of today’s population. And yet, due to inadequate progress made by people of his time, life was much more difficult than it is now.Tertullian blamed “Nature” for not yielding “her usual sustenance;” he surmised that there were too many people around. What he should have done was to admit that the people of his time had not yet discovered creation’s hidden resources to make life better for more people. Herein lies a lesson for our generation too.
In this chapter, I wish to examine the trends in world population and, in the following chapters, arguments put forward by population agencies regarding “over-population.” The veracity of the claims made by doomsday predictors need to be examined before we can correctly assess the relevance of the divine mandate to multiply. It may be mentioned here that the term “over-population” defies definition. It seeks to spread the notion that there is something called an ideal or optimum human population compared to which current population is higher.(65) Is there an optimum human population? If so, what is it? If not, why use this term at all? Does the simple fact that no one has ever devised a method to determine an optimum human population or that no one has ever defined “over-population” in concrete terms indicate that there is no such problem as “over-population?”
World population reached six billion in the year 1999(66) and an estimated 83 million people are being added to that number every year since.(67) In the year 2011, world population reached 7 billion (7,041,194 to be precise).(68) In 2023, according to the United Nations, world population will cross 8 billion.(69)
Population growth was rather slow for most of human history. Famines, war, epidemics and high infant mortality rates ensured that population growth was negligible. Advancement in agriculture, food distribution and trade in the seventeenth century gave rise to a faster population growth in Europe. World population reached one billion by the beginning of nineteenth century.(70) During the nineteenth century, Europe’s population doubled.(71) Europeans spilled over to North America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and other colonies they held in Latin America and Asia. The twentieth century began with a population of 1.7 billion after which world population saw a sudden increase, reaching two billion by 1930, three billion by 1960, four billion by 1974, five billion by 1986, six billion by 1999, and seven billion by 2011.(72) Before you express shock at this sudden upward trajectory, let me remind you of Peter Adamson’s remarkable observation about the twentieth century: “It’s not that people suddenly started breeding like rabbits; it’s just that they stopped dying like flies.”(73) Nicholas Eberstadt, the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, therefore, preferred to use the term “Health Explosion” instead of “Population Explosion.”
The “population explosion” of the past generation — the era when the tempo of world population growth surged and then peaked before commencing its current decline — was a phenomenon widely misunderstood and misinterpreted in academic and policy circles. Population did not boom because people suddenly started breeding like rabbits, but rather because they finally stopped dying like flies: the “population explosion” was in reality a “health explosion,” with improvements in longevity driving the entirety of this increase in human numbers. This basic fact helps to explain why the alarmism about third-world population growth and a predicted upsurge in poverty and famine proved (fortunately) to be so very badly wrong.(74)
The distribution of world population at the beginning of the twenty-first century is given below. The name of the region and the percentage of World Population living there are as follows:(75)
Asia - 60.7%
Africa - 13.2%
Europe – 12%
Latin America - 7.9%
North America – 5%
The Caribbean - 0.6%
Oceania - 0.5%
This table clearly shows that the global human centre-of-gravity rests in Asia. The “Third World” is the “Majority World.”
Taking population density into account, we get a more accurate picture of human population distribution in relation to total available land in every country or continent. This parameter will indicate that Asian and African countries are “people rich” while North America and Australia are “land rich.” Very often, the perceived “population explosion” in Asian and African countries is about the high population density – or crowding – in these lands. Many European or ‘developed’ regions are as crowded as some Asian countries while some Asian countries that have large populations have lower population densities. For example, the United Kingdom is more crowded than China; Germany was more densely populated than Pakistan—until 2010!(76)
The answer to crowding is migration. Asians should do what the Europeans did in the nineteenth century when the latter’s population doubled—migrate to land-rich continents! Nationalist political parties, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis in the so-called First World countries – Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, France, Netherlands, and Germany, to name a few – are already up in arms against migration from Africa and Asia.(77)
There are several common reasons given in support of population control operations. These will be evaluated in the light of recent findings on the state of the world’s resources, environment and on the real nature of “family planning” implemented in developing countries. The following subsection explores common reasons cited to implement control population.
An early warning about uncontrolled global population growth came from Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus, the English political economist who wrote an “Essay on the Principle of Population” in 1798.(78) The central thesis of this essay is that “population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio; and subsistence for man, in an arithmetical ratio.”(79) He argues that unless population growth is checked, humankind would soon face starvation. His views received wide acceptance especially among the upper classes of society because these “tended to relieve the rich and powerful of responsibility for the condition of the working classes, by showing that the latter had chiefly themselves to blame …” (80) A direct consequence of Malthusian views was a decreased interest shown by rulers for uplifting the poor. The rulers of nineteenth century believed that “increased comfort would lead to an increase in numbers.”(81) Thus, poverty was considered to be restraining mechanism that would curb the tendency of the poor to multiply.(82)
Before Malthus, the Rev. Otto Diederich Lutken, in 1758, sought to dispel the idea that the prosperity of a state depended on its increasing population.(83) Lutken wrote,
Since the circumference of the globe is given and does not expand with the increased number of its inhabitants, … since the earth’s fertility cannot be extended beyond a given point, and since human nature will presumably remain unchanged, so that a given number will hereafter require the same quantity of the fruits of the earth for their support as now, and as their rations cannot be arbitrarily reduced, it follows that … they must needs starve one another out …(84)
Paul Ehlrich’s The Population Bomb popularised Malthusian fears and predicted that the world would witness large scale starvation deaths in the 1970s.(85) Ehlrich favoured coercive measures to control the “cancer” of human multiplication.
A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. … We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions. The pain may be intense. But the disease is so far advanced that only with radical surgery does the patient have a chance of survival.(86)
Environmental agencies carry forward the Malthusian hypothesis with great zeal. An ardent supporter of Malthusian predictions once exclaimed, “If you are not hysterical, that just shows that you do not understand the problem.”(87)
The US Government organised an exhibition in the 1970s for school children in various parts of the country. It sought to spread this message:
There are too many people in the world. We are running out of space. We are running out of energy. We are running out of food. And, although too few people seem to realize it, we are running out of time.(88)
The World Watch State of the World report of 1998 expressed fears that the world is on the threshold of a large scale shortage of grain.(89) It claimed that the world grain productivity slowed down in the 1990s; a bleak picture of scarcity is portrayed in the report. Brown called for major investments in agriculture as well as in population control.
Closely related to the worry about shortage of food is the worry about running short of resources such as forests, energy, mineral resources, and water. Rev. Lutken had mentioned this in his writing on the adverse effects of a growing population—the “other necessarily attendant inconveniences, to wit, a lack of the other comforts of life, wool, flax, timber, fuel, and so on.”(90) Therefore, he concludes that “… the wise Creator who commanded men in the beginning to be fruitful and multiply, did not intend, since He set limits to their habitation and sustenance, that multiplication should continue without limit.”(91)
Over the past years there has been no dearth for doomsday predictions. The message that the world is going from bad to worse is so widespread and taken for granted in many quarters. The pertinent question is, how sure are we about our estimates of the carrying capacity of planet Earth? How true are these doomsday predictions?
Worldwatch Institute presents a gloomy picture of the world in its State of the World report:
While economic indicators … are consistently positive, the key environmental indicators are increasingly negative. Forests are shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, wetlands are disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, range-lands are deteriorating, rivers are running dry, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are dying, and plant and animal species are disappearing.”(92)
Bjørn Lomborg, after careful research, points out that the doomsday predictions made by environmental agencies such as the Worldwatch Institute, Green Peace, and the World Wildlife Fund, which then are echoed by popular media, lack integrity.(93) Lomborg belongs to the school of Julian Simon who wrote extensively to expose various doomsday predictions related to human population growth.(94) Contrary to the constant litany of doom, Simon’s main argument is that things are getting better for mankind:
“My central proposition here is simply stated: Almost every trend that affects human welfare points in a positive direction, as long as we consider a reasonably long period of time and hence grasp the overall trend.”(95)
Lomborg agrees with Simon: “… by far the majority of indicators show that mankind’s lot has vastly improved.”(96) There are numerous indicators developed by the UN and the World Bank that can give us a fair idea about the state of a nation or the world.(97) Before we look at any of these indicators, it is important to understand the nature of population “explosion” in the twentieth century.
The sudden increase in world population in the twentieth century is primarily due to advances in medical care that brought down infant mortality and increased human life-expectancy.(98) Contrary to what is popularly believed, “the increase is not, on the other hand, due to people in developing countries having more and more children.”(99) Lomborg cites a UN consultant Peter Adamson’s memorable words, “It’s not that people suddenly started breeding like rabbits; it’s just that they stopped dying like flies.”(100)
This, then, is not a problem but an achievement. Simon observes that while it took thousands of years for human life expectancy in the developed world to increase from twenty years to the high twenties, it took just two centuries for them to increase it to seventy-five years.(101) Most of this increase took place in the twentieth century and Simon considers this as the “greatest human achievement in history.”(102)
In the developing world, in the beginning of twentieth century, average life expectancy was below 30 years.(103) Life expectancy has risen so rapidly in these countries that it is projected to cross the 70 year mark by 2020.(104)
However, the good news of increased life-expectancy has become bad news for those who are interested only in the relative populations of “Whites” and “Blacks,” or, for that matter, the relative populations of the developed world and of the still-developing world.(105) The issue then is not that there are too many people but that there are too many of them. This too is a pointer to a deeper spiritual disease that underlies modern anti-natalist claims.
An important human welfare parameter that contributed to the rise in life expectancy is infant mortality. In the developed world, the percentage of infants that did not survive fell from six percent in 1950 to less than one percent in 2000.(106) Although Less Developing Countries were reported to have an infant mortality of six percent in 2000, it was expected to halve by 2020.(107) UN data pertaining to the period 2015-2020 shows that infant mortality in Less Developed Countries did indeed come down to 3.2 percent.(108) Thus, the “scary” population explosion in the Majority World is a direct result of the advances these societies achieved in terms of primary health care.
Malthus and his supporters were wrong in assuming that food production would not keep in step with human multiplication. If resources were finite, and if there was no possibility for increasing a resource base, then the doomsday predictions of Malthus and his supporters would have come to pass. The resource base, however, kept increasing with increasing population. Babies came – with hands to work and minds to innovate – not just with mouths to consume resources. Ehlrich’s warning that “the chances of successfully feeding and otherwise caring for an expanding population are being continuously diminished” does not stand up to facts.(109)
An FAO study had this to report about global food production/consumption:
“How has agriculture responded to these increases in world population? … Production grew faster than population. Per caput production is today about 18 percent above that of 30 years ago. Food availabilities for the world as a whole are today equivalent to some 2700 kilocalories per person per day … up from 2300 calories 30 years ago. And this is counting only food consumed directly by human beings. In addition, some 640 million tonnes of cereals are fed to animals for producing the livestock products which people consume.”(110)
Not only are we living longer; we are better fed now than was a smaller global population several decades ago.(111) For instance, take the World Food Summit findings about the number of people who are starving today in the world.(112) The percentage of starving people in ninety-three developing countries decreased from 35% in 1970 to 18% in 1996, and was expected to drop to 12% by 2010.(113) Even though things can and ought to get better, the trend shows that things are getting better. This improvement has occurred in spite of the doubling of the world population during this period. Julian Simon is jubilant about this development:
“In the early nineteenth century the planet Earth could sustain only 1 billion people. Ten thousand years ago, only 4 million could keep themselves alive. Now, 5 billion people are living longer and healthier than ever before. This increase in the world’s population represents our triumph over death. I would expect lovers of humanity to jump with joy at this triumph of human mind and organization over the raw forces of nature. But many people lament that there are so many humans alive to enjoy the gift of life.”(114)
Simon’s observation is on the mark. Among those who complain or worry about rising population, few complain about their own arrival on earth; neither do they think of making an early exit to light Earth’s burden. Instead, they moan about the gift of life that God has bestowed on each new child!
The costs of minerals and other raw materials indicate that we are not running short of these resources.(115) Although economists had shown beyond all doubt that we are not running out of fuel, minerals or food, environmentalists’ claims to the contrary led Julian Simon to challenge such claims with a bet.(116) Simon wanted his opponents to choose the resources of their choice and observe prices for a period of ten years. If any of the prices showed an increase, Simon was willing to pay $10,000.(117) Although his opponents, all environmentalists from Stanford University, desired to win easy money, they lost the bet. All the resources that they had chosen – chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten – and others that they left out, such as petroleum, wool, cotton, minerals and food became cheaper.(118) Moffett comments that the improved methods of detecting mineral reserve ensured that mineral reserves increased despite ever increasing demand for these resources.(119) He cites UN statistics to show how known copper reserves grew from 91 million tons in 1950 to 555 million tons in early 1980s.(120) So successful were Simon’s arguments that, Moffett notes, the supporters of Malthus are now guarded in their use of the word “crisis” while referring to the effects of population growth!(121)
Price of a commodity is an indicator of its scarcity or availability. The assumptions of doomsday predictors are proving to be false. The World Bank’s World Development Report 1984 too did not find resources to be at risk as a result of rising population.(122)
Related to the claim that a robust population growth rate will usher in famines and resource crunch is the claim that rapidly growing populations will suffer poverty and slow economic growth. Rich nations or communities may find it easy to blame the high fertility of poorer nations or communities for the latter’s poverty. Politicians find “population explosion” a welcome excuse for failed economic policies.(123) Governments therefore pursued population control policies to ensure a better future for their people.
However, in the 1980s, there came about a great change in the field of economics. Economists discovered that there was no scientific basis to link population growth negatively with economic development.(124) According to Simon, such a sea change came about in economics with the publication of Population Growth and Economic Development—a report of the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1986.(125) Contrary to what was reported in 1971 – that population growth would adversely affect “savings, investment, food supplies, unemployment, modernization, technological change, industrialization, social areas, education, health and child development, and the environment”(126) – the 1986 report concluded that “the concern about the impact of rapid population growth on resource exhaustion has often been exaggerated.”(127) This report thus differed from all previous economic reports that portrayed population growth as a deterrent to economic development.
However, the effects of population growth depend on various factors such as the economic system and efficiency of a country, political stability, rate of population growth, population structure, etc. While population growth may favour a country that enjoys economic freedom and political stability, it may result in adverse effects in a country that has a centrally planned economy and/or political instability. This was conclusively proved in a study that compared the development of pairs of countries such as East and West Germany, North and South Korea, and China and Taiwan.(128) These paired countries differed mainly in the economic system that they followed—one was capitalistic while the other was communist. They started out with comparable birth rates. However, over a period of time, it was noted that the countries that followed a free market system outperformed their counterpart that had planned economies.(129) Poverty and slow economic progress that countries such as India, North Korea, China, and other socialist or communist countries experience (in comparison with similar countries that chose a capitalistic economy) cannot now be ascribed to “population explosion.”
A recent study on the economic future of four highly fertile countries – Brazil, Russia, Indian and China (BRIC) – brought forth astonishing results.(130) This book has mapped out the GDP, per capita income and currency movements in these BRIC countries till the year AD 2050. They have concluded that:(131)
Many years before the BRIC study was done, The Economist had predicted a windfall of fortune for Asian countries that achieved a rapid demographic transition and attained a favourable population structure with higher proportion of working people.(136)
On the other hand, many European countries are facing grave economic problems due to declining fertility rates.(137) Low fertility rate resulted in a skewed population structure with lesser number of earning members having to support a larger number of ageing pensioners. Judging by the trends that prevailed in early 2000s continues, it was calculated that, by 2050, Europe will have to support 75 pensioners out of the earnings of every 100 workers.(138) Currently, as workers in Germany and Italy pay close to a third of their earnings to government pension accounts, it is not surprising that these countries faced labour unrest.(139) European countries such as France and Sweden now offer financial incentives to families that choose to have more children.(140) In spite of local opposition to immigration of skilled workers from Asian countries, the United Kingdom, like other European countries, promoted immigration in order to sustain economic growth.(141)
It is commonly thought that the population of a society will remain stable with no growth or decline if every couple in that community has just two children. Thus a fertility of two is considered to be the “replacement” level.(142) In developed countries, replacement level is achieved by maintaining a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1; in the still developing Majority World, the TFR should be 2.5 “because of the higher infant death rates.”(143)
Even if this argument is accepted at face value, women in the Majority World and in the First World should consider having at least three children in order to maintain their respective populations. This is because fraction and decimals in TFR exist only in a demographer’s book. In the real world it is not possible to ask one in ten women to have a third child in order to attain a TFR of 2.1. Similarly, there is not going to be any arrangement in the Majority World to make every other woman to have a third child to maintain a TFR of 2.5. Therefore, for achieving a replacement level as envisioned by Lappé and Schurman, every woman should be encouraged to have three children; many of them might settle for two eventually.
Another objection that I have is that Lappé and Schurman take into consideration just two factors – infant deaths and female infertility – while coming up with 0.1 births or 0.5 births in addition to a minimum TFR of 2. There may be scores of other factors that need consideration. In any society, several people die before they ever get to marry or reproduce; several are handicapped and are therefore incapable of procreation. Several men, apart from women, are infertile. Due to these factors, if every couple in a population has just two children, that population will decline.
Arguments to support population control keep changing. When one set of arguments fail, proponents of population control seek out new arguments. Latest in the line of evolving arguments is the ecological one. This argument is different from all the previous arguments in that its appeal is not based just on human welfare or prosperity but also on the welfare of other creatures.
“We must halt human population growth not just to ensure the well-being of humanity but to restore the interdependent biotic community in which we human beings must learn to see ourselves as members not masters.”(144)
Humans are thus seen as pollutants on earth—pests that devour resources, destroy habitats, and drive various species to extermination. People are also described as a cancer on planet earth.(145) At best, humans share the worth attributed to the rest of creatures.
In 1979, The Sinking Ark by Norman Myers highlighted species loss as a major adverse effect of the human encroachment into wildlife habitats.(146) In it, Myers claimed that we were losing 40,000 species every year, over a 100 species every day.(147) These claims found a place in the report Global 2000 prepared for the President of the USA and thus was widely circulated and accepted as the truth.(148)
Alan Lovejoy’s predictions on an ecological disaster caused great alarm. The report said:
“What then is a reasonable estimate of global extinctions by 2000? In the low deforestation case, approximately 15 percent of the planet’s species can be expected to be lost. In the high deforestation case, perhaps as much as 20 percent will be lost. This means that of the 3-10 million species now present on the earth, at least 500,000-600,000 will be extinguished during the next two decades.”(149)
US vice-president Al Gore, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, and Professor Paul Ehrlich quoted these and larger figures to get their message of conservation across.(150)
Simon asserts that the data on species loss projected by these biologists have nothing to do with reality.(151) Lomborg’s research too reveals the same thing. The only publishe(152) d work that is cited is Myers’ Sinking Ark in which Myers bases his argument on guesses and suppositions—that the extinction rate might have reached a 100 species a year.(153) Myers then makes a further leap in conjecture and arrives at a conclusion that the earth would lose a 100 species a day, during the latter part of twentieth century, due to “man-handling of natural environments.”(154) Myers arrived at this figure by assuming that the final 25 years of the 20th century would witness the extinction of a million species. Thus, his argument is entirely circular—“if you assume 40,000, then you get 40,000,” as Lomborg states it.(155) Myers’ figure is “40,000 times greater than his own data, [and] 10,000 times the latest observed rate.”(156)
Scientists aver that there is no precise way of determining the exact number of species on earth let alone determining the rate of species extinction. Myers admits that there is “no way of knowing the actual extinction rate in the tropical forests, let alone an approximate guess.”(157) Yet, this does not stop Myers or other research biologists from making wild guesses. Lomborg cites examples of scientists who were worried about lack of sound data but did not dare to question the unscientific claims of senior scientists. He then concludes that these scientists are driven not by scientific temper but by desire to salvage their career through research grants.(158)
The findings of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources are sufficient to bring about a change in the minds of those biologists who claim that we are losing species at a high rate. IUCN found that only a “very small” number of mammals and birds have become extinct.(159) These researchers have also found that there is “no clear-cut evidence” to prove that loss of 20 percent of the world’s rainforests since 1830s has resulted in the extinction of large number of species.(160)
Documented Extinctions From The Year AD 1600(161)
|Taxa||Approx. Number of Species||Total Extinctions since 1600|
In spite of these and other findings, doomsday predictors have not been discouraged. Myers continued to stick to his figure of “50-150” extinctions per day even in 1999.(162) Worse still, these biologists feel that they “don’t need to know how many species there are, how they are related to one another, or how many disappear annually to recognise that Earth’s biota is entering a gigantic spasm of extinction.”(163) Ironically, this statement that rejects the importance of facts and figures appears in a book titled Betrayal of Science and Reason! Biologists can indeed do a lot better with a little help from observed facts and reason!
Another facet of the world’s conservation movement is that the animals or plants that are highlighted as those in need for protection are very often those that enjoy human appeal. These could be the Asian elephant,(164) the blue whale,(165) or the Bengal tiger.(166) We do not hear much about the need to conserve the majority of species in rainforests—beetles, insects, fungi, or bacteria. Conservationists might claim that the large mammals act as flagship species, and that their protection ensures the protection of other smaller, inconspicuous species. Interestingly, the highlighting of these large and appealing animals reveals the predominance of human interests over that of the interests of other species though we may be quick to disown any anthropocentric tendencies.
One of the arguments against human multiplication and expansion is that humans destroy wilderness and forest areas. The tropical rainforests are rich in biodiversity. Conservationists have therefore lobbied for the protection of rainforests. The theory that linked habitat area with the number of species was authored by biologist E. O. Wilson.(167) According to this theory, if a habitat is reduced by 90 percent, the number of species will be cut down to 50 percent. This theory was first formulated for islands but was indiscriminately used for other ecosystems as well.(168)
The largest study of tropical biodiversity conducted in Puerto Rico by the US Department of Agriculture reveals how Wilson’s theory cannot be applied in every ecosystem. Ninety nine percent of the primary forest in Puerto Rico had been destroyed over a period of 400 years; yet, contrary to Wilson’s theory, only seven out of 60 bird species became extinct.(169) In the case of Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, we are left with just twelve percent of what was in place two centuries ago. Wilson’s theory would predict the loss of fifty percent of all species. Yet, not a single plant or animal species became extinct as a result of this habitat loss.(170)
Despite the conservationists propaganda to the contrary, there is mounting evidence to prove that the world’s forest cover is improving. FAO’s Production Yearbook is the only work to have calculated the area of forest cover from 1949 to 1994. According to the FAO, the global forest cover had increased from 40.24 million square kilometres in 1950 to 43.04 million square kilometres in 1994.(171) Eighty percent of Brazilian Amazon rainforest is well preserved.(172)
These facts should make us question the wisdom of allocating the world’s scarce resources for costly conservation projects when more urgent human development projects are delayed due to lack of funds. Large tracts of forests are declared as reserves. As a result, tribal societies and villagers who lived in forests and off forest resources for centuries are denied access to forests. In the name of biodiversity, people are portrayed as pests; without adequate facts to support claims of species extinction, human multiplication and expansion are condemned.
Before we examine the case for population control, it is vital to get a clear picture of what is happening in the world, especially in the Majority World, in the name of “family planning.” It is also important to perceive the real reasons that drive the population control movement. I shall first state a conclusion and then marshal premises that help me to reach the stated conclusion.
What an Indian or an Asian understands by the phrase “family planning” is different from what a person from the developed world understands by the same phrase. “Family planning,” for the westerner, is best expressed by Malcolm Potts’ definition: “Family planning begins and ends with individual couples choosing when to have children.”(173) Accordingly to Robert Whelan, “family planning is the decision taken by couples, in the light of their own beliefs and circumstances, as to the number and spacing of their own children.”(174)
The successive governments in India encouraged and practised “population control” instead of “family planning.” The people of India in general do not understand the difference between the two. They’ve mistakenly believed that they were being taught “family planning” even though it was the government that prescribed the number of children they must have. This misunderstanding exists because western population control agencies sold the concept of “population control” to less developed countries under the label of “family planning.” Thus, in one stroke, these agencies misled people in the developed world as well as people in the Majority World.(175) The developed world funded these agencies thinking that they were promoting “family planning.” The developing world was fooled into thinking that they were being taught “family planning” when in reality they were being seduced into “population control.”
“Population control” is fundamentally different from “family planning.” In Whelan’s words:
“Population control is the decision taken by governments or other agencies that couples should have no more than a certain number of children, followed by measures to enforce this. One gives freedom while the other takes it away. To determine which one of these is in operation, one only has to ask, ‘Who is making the choices or decisions regarding the number of children?’”(176)
Without understanding this fundamental difference between family planning and population control, almost every Indian refers to the government’s population control programme as “family planning.”(177) Similarly, people in developed countries too may be mistaken in referring to the population control programmes in China, India and other countries as “family planning” programmes. Robert Whelan was one of those who brought to light this deception adopted by population control agencies.(178) He states the central purpose of his book in these words:
“… The public have been misled concerning the nature and impact of population control programmes on parents, particularly women, in the developing countries. This has been achieved by distorting the use of the term ‘family planning’ until it ceases to represent what we would understand by it in the rich nations of the west.”(179)
Whelan proves his point by citing evidence to show that governments in the Majority World deny parents the right to decide the number of children they should have.(180) Some of them use coercive methods to sterilise people or to terminate pregnancies. In countries that fight shy of using coercive methods, elaborate systems of incentives and disincentives are in place in order to motivate people to adopt “family planning” methods.(181) At the same time, western governments that funded projects in the Majority World lost no opportunity to declare their support to parents’ right to freely determine the size of individual families.(182) Such declarations are quickly followed by a reminder to couples and their respective governments to exercise responsibility in the interest of their community and of the world.(183) Thus, parents’ “right” is virtually nullified. In other words, the population control agencies and the governments that supported them were convinced that people in the Majority World lacked the ability and wisdom to decide the size of their own families. It is not difficult to understand the desperation of these anti-natalists; their leaders came up with suggestions as described below.
In the early years of the population control movement, Kingsley Davis doubted the effectiveness of non-coercive methods. His suggestions for the introduction of coercive methods reveal a sinister design:
“… the government could pay people to permit themselves to be sterilized; all costs of abortion could be paid by the government; a substantial fee could be charged for a marriage license; a ‘child tax’ could be levied … governments could … cease taxing single persons more than married ones; stop giving parents special tax exemptions; abandon income tax policy that discriminates against couples when the wife works; stop giving parents special tax exemptions … stop awarding public housing on the basis of family size … women could be required to work outside the home, or compelled by circumstances to do so. If, at the same time, women were paid as well as men and given equal educational and occupational opportunities … many women would develop interests that would compete with family interests.”(184)
Over the past decades, Davis’ radical suggestions to destabilise the traditional family were effectively implemented in several developed countries. What is disturbing is that these changes in social and family life did not happen by chance but by design. In 1969, Frederick Jaffe, the Vice President of Planned Parenthood, listed steps attaining significant reduction of fertility. He desired that young people would postpone or avoid marriage; that local governments would add contraceptives to drinking water supply; and that homosexuality would increase.(185)
Berelson used Kingsley Davis’ and Jaffe’s suggestions along with his own in his speech titled “Beyond Family Planning” delivered to the Population Conference in Dhakka in 1969.(186) Berelson suggested a number of “involuntary” methods of population control such as:
i. Sterilise all females using time-capsule contraceptives, reversible only after government approval;
ii. Issuing of licenses to have children;
iii. The compulsory sterilisation of men with three or more children;
iv. The addition of a sterilising agent in the water supply.(187)
Berelson justified these methods thus: “… the worse the problem, the more one is willing to ‘give up’ in ethical position in order to attain ‘a solution.’”(188)
The methods of population control movement may be understood as a combination of “push-and-pull” methods—methods of coercion and methods of inducement through the offer of incentives. Through these methods, population control agencies violated people’s freedom and exploited their vulnerability. Poor people in the Majority World did not wait for any incentive before they adopted modern medical treatments or vaccinations for the eradication of communicable diseases. When offered incentives for getting sterilised, they failed to perceive that they were being robbed in broad daylight; that the incentives were far too small in comparison with what they were asked to part with.
Indonesia: Indonesia is regarded as a “textbook example of the violation of an individual’s right to choose by government’s population programmes.”(189) In Padang Panjang, a Muslim village, children were denied report cards until they produced their mother’s identity card that showed the mother’s compliance with the official population programme.(190) Villages and communities were given extra food supplements(191) or granted road repairs or public amenities(192) based on the achievement of a set fertility target by all residents. If one family did not fall in line, the entire community was denied these incentives. Peer pressure thus played a major role in Indonesian population control. In spite of the use of these unethical means, the masters of the population control movement were satisfied with the results. In June 1989, President Suharto received the United Nations Population Award(193) “in recognition of outstanding contributions to increasing the awareness of population questions and to their solution.”(194)
China: China adopted a merciless “one couple, one child” population control policy after Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and wayward policies such as the collectivisation of land resulted in the death of 10 to 20 million people.(195) Chairman Mao had once declared that, “Of all things in the world, people are the most precious. … Before long there will arise a new China with a big population and a great wealth of products, where life will be abundant and culture will flourish. All pessimistic views are utterly groundless.”(196)
Yet, politicians in China found an easy scapegoat in women who had large families to save Mao’s name after his policies failed.(197) China opted for a harsh population control programme with financial assistance from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)(198). The gross violations of human rights in China were first brought to light by Steven Mosher(199) and John S. Aird.(200)
Lin Yin, a Chinese journalist, reports of her experience at a Chinese abortion clinic where government “task force” detained pregnant women:
“Hundreds of women – some more than six months pregnant – were packed in dark corridors and makeshift tents, waiting to be operated on in the ‘abortion centre’ in the hospital courtyard. Next to it was a public toilet. I went in. There was simply nowhere you could put your feet; it was filled with blood soaked toilet paper. Behind the toilet stood a line of waste bins. The aborted babies – some as old as eight months – were put there, and then dumped somewhere else.”(201)
The horrors of the Chinese 5.programme made the U. S. government to adopt the Kemp-Kasten Amendment of the Foreign Assistance Act that states that “no U.S. Government funds be used in a program that ‘supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.’”(202) This came after they received sufficient evidence to prove that what went on in the name of “family planning” in China was indeed “population control.” Citizens in western nations were kept in the dark by population control agencies about the real nature of their programmes in the Majority World.
In spite of the U. S. government’s warning, the UNFPA and IPPF continue to fund the Chinese government’s programme.(203) More people have been killed in China as a result of the “Great Leap Forward” and the “one child” policy than in any part of the world.(204) Amnesty International Report 2005 indicates that the Chinese government continues with forced abortions.(205) The report describes the fate of a young woman who dared to protest against a forced abortion that she had to endure:
“Mao Hengfeng was sent to a labour camp for 18 months’ ‘Re-education through Labour’ in April  for persistently petitioning the authorities over a forced abortion 15 years earlier when she became pregnant in violation of China’s family planning policy. She was reportedly tied up, suspended from the ceiling and severely beaten in the labour camp. She had been detained several times in the past in psychiatric units where she had been forced to undergo shock therapy.”(206)
Yet, women members of the U.S. Congress, who are “pro-choice” activists, who strive to uphold women’s right to get an abortion, are demanding that the U.S. reinstate funding the UNFPA!(207) Certainly, “reproductive rights” mean different things to women in China and for their counterparts in the U.S.
Population control programmes in India began in 1951 with the first Five Year Plan.(208) These programmes gained momentum in the second, third and subsequent Plans.(209) Reviews of the programme in the Five Year Plans show that the programme depended on voluntary participation of men and women. As the years passed by, there was increasing alarm in the government at the rapid growth in India’s population.
“The increase in population from 365 million in 1951 to 445 million in 1961 and 527 million in 1968 has been the result of a sharp fall in mortality rate without any significant changs [sic] in the fertility rate.
The birth rate appears to have remained unchanged around 41 per thousand population during the greater part of the past two decades up to 1965-66. … In order to make economic development yield tangible benefits for the ordinary people, it is necessary tliat [sic] the birth rate be brought down substantially as early as possible.”(210)
It is interesting to note that a “sharp fall” in the mortality rate was responsible for the steep increase in Indian population. By all means, a fall in mortality is good news! However, the political masters and their bureaucratic stooges were dissatisfied because rising numbers made it difficult for them to highlight their achievements as “tangible benefits for the ordinary people.”(211)
By the latter part of 1975, the India government panicked—a desirable fall in mortality rate resulted in the undesirable fallout of rising population! In October, the Union Health Minister, Dr Karan Singh sent this note to the Prime Minister: “The problem is now so serious that there seems to be no alternative to think in terms of introduction of some element of compulsion in the larger national interest.”(212) The Shah Commission inquired into the excesses committed by the Indira Gandhi government during the days of Emergency. The state of Emergency declared on 26 June 1975 gave the Indian government an opportunity to show its true colours in the area of population control. During this dark period, the fundamental rights of citizens remained suspended. The government was free to exercise coercion. Without losing this golden opportunity the government machinery swung into action. The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared:
“We must now act decisively and bring down the birth rate speedily. We should not hesitate to take steps which might be described as drastic. Some personal rights have to be kept in abeyance for the human rights of the nation.”(213)
The head of USAID in India, John Lewis, had extended full support to the Indian government by saying that he “would press [population] funds on the Indian government whether it wants them or not.”(214) In 1976, the government pushed a constitutional amendment through parliament to bring population under the concurrent list so that the central government could legislate in the area of population control.(215) With no financial or administrative hurdles in its way, the government set high targets for sterilising men. Muslim men were rounded up and forcibly sterilised.(216) In the state of Uttar Pradesh, the government forcibly sterilised policemen and personnel in the prisons department to achieve set targets.(217) Uttar Pradesh, which failed to achieve a target of 175,000 sterilisations in 1975-76, performed 837,000 sterilisations in 1976-’77.(218) Nation-wide, the number of sterilisations shot up from 1.3 million in 1974-’75 to 2.6 million in 1975-’76, and again to 8.1 million in 1976-’77.(219) Justice Krishna Iyer recounts a bizarre incident:
“… A chartered bus carrying professors for a seminar was diverted to a hospital and all the learned participants in the seminar were forced to undergo vasectomy despite their protest. These were orders perhaps from Sanjay Gandhi. The Governor was against it. Many women from villages fled to the hills for fear of the police carrying away people for sterilisation by force. There was a sense of terror throughout the country”(220)
Forcible sterilisation probably was one of the strongest factors that brought down the Indira government in early 1977.(221) After this change, the number of sterilisations for the year 1977-’78 dropped to “barely 1 million.”(222) Political parties have ever since publicly distanced themselves from coercive measures in population control.(223) The “family planning” programme was renamed as “family welfare” programme. However, the population control programme in India remained alive and well in government records and plans. The government’s focus remained on raising the minimum age for marriage, creating opportunities for women to work outside their homes, research in the area of contraception, awareness campaigns to spread the “norm” of small families, and on offering incentives to those who maintained a small family.(224) It is surprising to see that planners of the Fifth Plan, unlike politicians, still considered “permitting State Legislatures to enact legislation for compulsory sterilization.”(225) The sixth Five Year Plan for 1982-’87 lamented that the Medical Termination Act did not consider abortion as population control measure and recommends that abortion be regarded as a “corrective method for failure of contraceptives.”(226)
Following the International Conference on Population and Development 1994 at Cairo, India and other 178 nations signed an agreement to end coercive population control and to opt for a milder way to keep population under control, namely, the empowerment of women and promotion of reproductive health.(227) Accordingly, the Indian government came up with a new National Population Policy that gave priority to “voluntary and informed choice and consent” of citizens while promoting “reproductive health care services.”(228) This policy opposed coercion and the use of incentives or disincentives. This policy was not given a fair chance to run its course; instead, policy-makers grew impatient and decided to give “teeth to the programme.”(229)
Contrary to the Cairo agreement, ten Indian states enforced a “two child norm” through various means.(230) Some states reserve their welfare programmes for those families that have limited their size to two children by accepting tubectomy or vasectomy; some others deny food rations to the third and subsequent children.(231) Hartmann’s says:
“In Tamil Nadu, agricultural labourers who lose a limb can only receive insurance compensation if they have no more than two children; in Maharashtra farmers with more than two children have to pay higher rates for irrigation facilities. Uttar Pradesh has gone so far as to make gun licenses contingent on ‘motivating’ five cases for sterilization. To get his revolver license, one rich landowner drugged five of his workers and had them sterilized without their consent.”(232)
The Indian government offers incentives not only to those who adopt sterilisation but also to those who perform it. Two Indian doctors reported to The Lancet about this:
“Local authorities are under pressure to achieve set targets and the doctors are paid on a case basis … inducements (cash or otherwise) are routinely sanctioned to candidates for sterilisation, and the motivator is similarly rewarded; the organizational structure is insufficient, and informed consent is certainly not obtained. Many gynaecologists pride themselves on the number of sterilisations they do.”(233)
Similar to these incentives, there are tax benefits too for small families. Tuition fees paid for just two children per family is exempted from tax calculations.(234) Several states such as Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan enacted laws that disqualify parents of three or more children from contesting in elections to local bodies; these were upheld by the Supreme Court.(235) Several women, especially those from the lower strata of society, have lost their offices as a result of these laws; husbands have forced their wives to go for abortion or to give away their children—just to retain office. To make matters worse, the two-child norm forged a deadly nexus with the Indian preference for sons; this resulted in increased female foeticides, upsetting sex ratio in several states.(236) Betsy Hartmann rightly concludes that India’s unprivileged women and children are the most affected by such coercive measures.(237)
As long as the Indian government offers incentives to those who adopt sterilisation or to those who have just two children, its “family welfare programme” cannot be called “family planning;” it remains a “population control programme.”
Agencies or governments that do not promote coercive measures adopt means to change the lifestyle of their people; they may address social factors such as preference for sons or health factors such as high infant mortality to bring down fertility; they may also promote factors that directly compete with a woman’s time and/or resources to have/nurture children.(238) Whichever way population control is done, the basic assumption is that parents in the Majority World are irresponsible and inept at deciding the size of their families.
If I should assert that the population control movement initiated by some people in the West has racial underpinnings, it might sound preposterous at first reading. However, a few promoters of “population control” are candid about this dark underside of their movement!
Instead of expressing a general concern about global human population growth, lobbyists moan about the rise in “third world” populations. Population growth rates in the third world are historically unprecedented.”(239) Lappé and Schurman buttress their point using graphs that compare the population growth in the developed West with that of the developing countries in the Majority World.(240) What might be the reasons behind this undue concern about the population growth in the Majority World? Such a distressing concern about “third world” population swell is best understood from a strategic military or economic point of view. Philanthropic explanations are just a pretention. If ever there will be a global democracy, the Majority World will stand to benefit! That could be a major cause of concern for the rich First World.
What makes the picture murkier is their firm belief in the theory of evolution.(241) Traditionally, evangelical Christians have believed that all humans are children of an original human couple—Adam and Eve. The Judeo-Christian view is expressed in St Paul’s words: “And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation …” Acts 17:26 RSV. The different races that we see are by-products of geographical separation of various human families and the resultant genetic isolation from each other.
Evolutionists, unlike these Christians, do not believe that the all humans came from one human couple; in other words, they do not believe in the genetic unity of the global human community. They believe that different human races have different evolutionary histories.(242) Even “evangelical” Christians such as Jeeves and Berry, who bend backwards to reconcile their allegiance to the Bible with their faith in the theory of evolution, reach a similar conclusion.(243) In their own words,
“A Neolithic Adam and Eve could not be the physical ancestors to the whole human species. … The Bible insists on the spiritual unity of the human race (Acts 17:26; Romans 5:12-14). This does not necessarily mean a genetic unity.”(244)
In other words, evolutionists believe that humans in Europe came from a species of monkeys while humans in other parts of the world came from various other monkeys! It is not clear how these Christian scientists classify humans of diverse genetic origins as one species called homo sapiens on the basis of some nebulous “spiritual unity.”
The necessary corollary of this viewpoint is the fundamental disunity of global humanity. Thus, the theory of evolution provides the “superior” races a justification for the practice of racial discrimination, inter-racial competitions, and for the classification of global humanity into different sub-species.
With such a faulty understanding of different human races, it is not surprising that Andrews expresses an alarm at the rising population of Asians/Africans in the following words:
“But the reality as provided to us by evolution is a variety of different populations, some of which are still segregated into more or less homogeneous political states, and others mixed together in multi-racial political units. Consider a multi-racial state made up of blues and reds. Suppose that blues were reproducing faster than the reds, and the reds, to control excessive growth decided to restrict their own reproduction rate. This would help ameliorate the problem for a while, but only until, at long last, there were no more reds, only blues.”(245)
The author’s careful choice of non-human colours such as “red” and “blue” to represent people of different human races does not help to make this extremely racist statement sound a little less weird. The benevolent “reds” – in the above illustration – who “restrict their own reproduction rate” in the interest of global humanity clearly represents the developed West! However, their protest against Asian “population explosion” betrays a lack of such benevolence in real life.
Andrews is also desperate because the “blues” will not learn “restraint” until it is too late.(246) In a democratic multiracial country, Andrew moans, there is no way to “legislate parity of ethnic reproduction” due to a hurdle called “freedom of reproductive choice.”(247) It is clear that Andrews, given a choice, would scrap this offending “freedom of reproductive choice” from civil societies!
It is distressing to know that racial undercurrents influenced vile practices such as the dumping of banned contraceptives on non-Caucasian women. For instance, Depo-provera, a hazardous contraceptive that was banned by the Federal Drug Authority of the USA, was used by the Indian Health Service agency to temporarily sterilise American Indian women for three to six months.(248) Philippino women were not educated about the adverse effects of this dangerous drug.(249) Lappe and Schurman also note that black women in South Africa were selectively subjected to sterilisation by Depo-Provera, often without their consent or knowledge.(250)
The documentary La Operación exposed the scandalous sterilisation unleashed in Puerto Rico in the 1950s.(251) More than a third of Puerto Rican women were encouraged to undergo a fashionable operation—an irreversible sterilisation procedure which the perpetrators never explained to them. Some women were sterilised while under anaesthesia for another operation!(252) The same film documents how, in the 1960s, Puerto Rican women were used as guinea pigs to test the contraceptive pill.
Strategic economic and military reasons too played an important role in the promotion of “population control” in the guise of “family planning.” Henry Kissinger commissioned a study of the “impact of world population growth on U.S. security and overseas interests” in 1974.(253) The resultant report, the NSSM 200, expressed fears that rapid population growth in developing countries would cause civil unrest and that “these effects may ultimately be the most important of those arising from population factors, most harmful to the countries where they occur and seriously affecting U.S. interests.”(254) The “U.S. interests” mentioned here is explained in the same document as the unhindered availability of resources from the Majority World. Therefore, the report advised the President, the Secretary of State and the Cabinet take special interest in selling the concept to the American public and to the nations of the world.(255)
Among the National Security Council’s various interesting suggestions to the U. S. government, the most outrageous one is its demand that the U. S. support and fund abortion as a tool for population control internationally.(256) Accordingly, U. S. funds sponsored the extermination of millions of babies(257) in several countries through the agency of United Nations Populations Fund (UNPFA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) until Steven Mosher(258) exposed the brutality of population control programmes in China.(259)
The implementation of population control programmes was clearly in the strategic interest of the developed countries. This explains why they pumped millions of dollars into these programmes in various countries. The developed countries also were careful to keep the Majority World – pejoratively called ‘LDC’ or Less Developed Countries – in the dark about their real intentions. To quote the NSSM 200:
“It is vital that the effort to develop and strengthen a commitment on the part of the LDC leaders not be seen by them as an industrialized country policy to keep their strength down or to reserve resources for use by the ‘rich’ countries. Development of such a perception could create a serious backlash adverse to the cause of population stability.”(260)
The real reasons behind these population control programmes are revealed here—to keep the Majority World’s “strength down” and to “reserve resources [of Asia and Africa] for use by the ‘rich’ countries.”
With memories of Third World leaders’ protests at the Bucharest International Conference on Population (1974) fresh in their minds, the authors of NSSM 200 included the following recommendation too:
“The U.S. can help to minimize charges of imperialist motivation behind its support of population activities by repeatedly asserting that such concern derives from a concern with: (a) the right of the individual to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of children … and (b) the fundamental social and economic development of poor countries.”(261)
Does anyone need more than these statements to call the bluff of the “developed” countries? Under the guise of protecting the right of women world-wide to protect their health and to space their children, the developed world found a “brilliantly successful technique for meddling with the fertility of Third World women without incurring charges of imperialism and unwarranted interference in the affairs of another country.”(262) If the U.S. indeed believes in the “right of the individual to determine freely and responsibly” the size of his or her family, as stated above, then why did it interfere in the lives of other people?
To perfect the art of deception, the NSSM 200 recommends that “credit should go to local leaders for the success of projects.”(263) When their political leaders win awards for the success of “family planning” projects, people in developing countries will naturally assume that the projects were conceived and implemented at the local level without any international instigation! True to this guideline, the President of the World Bank Robert McNamara called on the Indian Health and Family Planning Minister in November 1976, during the darkest hours of Indian Emergency marked by compulsory sterilisation of men, to “congratulate him for the Indian government’s ‘political will and determination’ in popularizing family planning.”(264) McNamara could not have misjudged the mood of India in a worse manner!(265)
In this book, I have examined the relevance of the creation mandate for human beings to multiply and fill the earth in the light of international propaganda against “overpopulation.” It is clear that God’s people, portrayed in the Bible, had a very positive attitude towards human multiplication. They considered children a blessing even though the nations around them complained about “overpopulation.” Thus, they serve as a worthy example for the Church and the rest of humanity in the twenty first century.
I have also examined arguments put forward by those who believe that the world is overpopulated. It was found that economic, ecological, and social reasons cited for “population control” did not match up with available evidence. Doomsday predictions related to human “population explosion” do not stand up to scientific scrutiny; neither are proponents of these views willing to retract their statements in the light of recent research and evidence.
What happens in the name of “family planning” in Asian countries is nothing but coercive “population control” that has brought suffering to thousands of women and children, not to mention the deaths of millions of unborn babies. It is my conclusion that people are the greatest wealth of any nation; that “family planning” should be the domain of married couples; and governments should trust their own people with the right to decide the size of their families.
Arguments in favour of keeping the human population under control are based on false information, vested interests, and human selfishness. The biblical mandate for human multiplication continues to be relevant in the twentieth century, even in developing countries such as India. No one needs to impose on a married couple his/her views about the “right size” for their family. Instead, every couple should plan their family. Family planning is more than just deciding the size of one’s family. It takes into account the health and welfare of entire family, especially of the mother and children. Even though the fertility of a woman is limited by her physiology, a family may need to exercise added discretion and care in this regard. (Debates about artificial methods of contraception, commonly known as “family planning” methods, usually accompany any discussion on “overpopulation.” However, a discussion on the morality of contraceptive methods is beyond the scope of this book.)
India, specifically, can be optimistic about its growing population considering the predictions about a good future for the country’s economy. Indian states should repeal all incentives or disincentives based on family size. Instead of deciding the size of each family, the government must focus on human resource development. Indian Christians and their fellow citizens should rise above the tide of ill-advised doomsday predictions about population explosion and should continue their valuable contributions in the field of nation building.
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Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realised that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip also teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. If you wish to extend financial support, contribute using Paypal. If you’re in India, scan this code to pay via any Unified Payment Interface (UPI) app such as PayTM or GooglePay.