Vivek Trivedi

ENGINEER-MECHANICAL, University of Oldenburg


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What can I suggest to people living in communities who believe the more children one has, the more helping hands there will be for old age?

In a few days, the total world population will exceed the 7 billion mark .

I live in India, and work to help people understand the hazards of an ever increasing population. During my visits to villages & small towns in India, I try my best to educate but sometimes my arguments fall short in the face of their strong belief systems regarding population.I have seen people who already have 25 children in their family and are still trying to conceive more. The worst part is when I try to convey the consequences, they have excuses like:
We need more earning hands otherwise we will not be able to sustain in old age. Children are God's gift, we shall not challenge God, and so on.

Here in TED, I am asking everyone to let me know if you have faced,or dealt with these issues, or people that feel this way. How do you convince them? You can suggest just a one liner, but I want to have a real impact on the listener. To be honest, I have fallen short on words many a time when attempting to convince a particular class who has been deprived of a good education and lack understanding of this very basic global problem. I feel TED members may share something that may have, if not everlasting, at least some, impact on them.

Any help will be greatly appreciated.

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    Oct 18 2011: Vivek, you raise an interesting question.

    I work in the DRCongo, the country with the world's highest fertility rate and the world's highest rate of malnutrition and child mortality. You already see the problem: high fertility + high infant mortality. They go hand in hand. Why?

    1. People living in poverty can only create "wealth in people". Children and young adults offer labor. If the chance is high that your much-valued future labor force will die soon, you have to make more members of that force.
    2. As long as there's no absolute proof that having less children will bring more wealth, then these people are right in keeping up a high fertility level. It's economic logic; they're not dumb, they're basic economists, like you and me.

    So to answer your question, here's some advice:

    -never speak in a patronizing tone (as you seem to be doing a bit). Never tell them that they "have excuses" and strange "belief systsems"; they're not excuses, they're thoughts and principles stemming from economics.

    -tell them the truth: "you're right in your economic logic. As long as we can't offer you rock-solid jobs that generate long-term wealth for you, I have nothing to tell you."

    -then go out and pressure your government to invest in rural areas, or to help the transition from an agrarian to an urbanised society. Because after all, once a woman arrives from the village in the city, her fertility suddenly drops spectacularly.

    Other than that: don't think you have to "teach" these people anything. You don't have to. They perfectly well understand economics.
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    Oct 17 2011: As I was rediscovering my ancestry I found something remarkable.

    Here in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century it was the same story.
    Many children were born but few survived the age of 20 years.

    About halfway that century the importance of hygiene was discovered and suddenly almost all children stayed alive.
    This looks good but it was a disaster at the time. Houses were too small, mothers couldn't cope, fathers stressed.
    There wasn't work for that many people and as a result the mass of people that lived reasonably good at first got poor and desperate.

    Because of the growth of industries at he time more jobs were created but life had become hell for the common people. Even with work they were exploited up to their bones and many that were able to left for America.

    India is somewhere in that same stage of developing and maybe this story can make people think.
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      Oct 17 2011: Thanks for sharing your views Sir, You got it very right that we are somewhat in similar situation which is frustrating and lack of awareness among masses has made it even bigger. I may go back with example of a developed country now and what they faced during their tough times. I believe that if I did succeed in convincing even a single man's mind (Considering India is a male dominated society specially in rural areas), who was otherwise going to bring 10-15 more helpless souls in this world without any planning for them, I will be more than happy.
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        Oct 17 2011: Vivek, Gerald O'Brian has a point

        There is an economic component to this and you actually sort of answered the question for yourself. You mentioned that the answers (or as you called them) excuses you received were "We need more earning hands otherwise we will not be able to sustain in old age". This is really the core issue here and is really one of the main reasons as to why people have lots of kids. This happens in the U.S. as well and it also has an economic component but not to the degree as your country.

        I would also argue that the religious notions do not make things any better and the only way of changing this is by reforming the religion and accept modernity. but I would be much more worried about your economic situation as opposed to the religious ones.

        In regards to how you can convince them, I would not try to convince the individual families themselves since there is really no way to change their mind. The only way that can happen is if political injunctions are imposed upon them but if they need more hands for labor, then they'll go and have more children. But if you want to help out, I would start with the political and economic issues and try to raise awareness about that and go from there.

        I also heard that many mothers die giving child birth or that families cannot take their child home unless they pay their bill. Is this true?
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          Oct 18 2011: Regarding your question, yes it is partly true that many mothers die during child birth "Every year, about 78,000 mothers die in childbirth and from complications of pregnancy in India, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)." I said partly as it is not exactly true that they can not take child home unless they pay their bills. Government is trying its best to reduce this, though the effects are not very visible due to bureaucratic functionality.

          I would like to differ on a point where you said that "there is really no way to change their mind." I won't say nobody has accepted or understood the ill effects of this problem. But instead of thinking or working on broader perspectives, like you said start with political and economic issues, I would like to start the change by individual efforts, which are in my hand at the moment.

          Religious notions are also issues, but as you said not more than economic situation, which is deteriorating more because of core issue "more helping hands". All I am trying, is to educate people and spread awareness which can be driven individually or by a team of motivated people, which I am trying to make. The important part here is to connect with the community which is against this reform idea.
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        Oct 18 2011: I get what your saying and you do what you have to do, in regards to change. I was not putting you down or anything but I was simply saying if they are not gong to listen to you, here are the reasons as to why they are not but doing what your doing is good as well. I do the exact same thing.

        also thanks for info.
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    Oct 17 2011: This problem seems to go hand in hand with poverty. Get rid of poverty.