Recently, several prominent personalities including Kilifi gubernatorial aspirant Kazungu Kambi have been reported telling crowds at political gatherings to ‘multiply and fill the earth’.
This is not the first time that a public figure has made such an argument. No less than five members of the National Assembly have been quoted in the press encouraging their constituents to have more children so that their communities can capture leadership or get a bigger allocation of resources. Many of them have been recorded encouraging their audiences to stop using contraceptives and give birth to many children to boost their voting numbers. Some, including a Cabinet secretary, have even gone to the extent of offering cash rewards for every birth or pregnancy.
Regrettably, the message by these prominent personalities is very compelling. It makes sense to many. Especially with the thinking behind the so-called tyranny of numbers. Many Kenyans will take this ‘multiply and fill the earth’ message seriously, and some will act on it.
This being the election season, chances are, many more politicians and other prominent personalities will say similar things and take similar actions (of rewarding pregnant women). However, data shows that child planning and spacing is beneficial to women, families, communities as well as the country.
Child planning and spacing allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births. Anticipating, spacing and timing the birth of children has many proven benefits to any society. One of the most vital rewards is that child planning and spacing protects the health of women and children by reducing high-risk pregnancies and allowing ample time between pregnancies.
This is especially important for Kenya which is walking the path of reducing maternal and child deaths. Child planning and spacing also reduces poverty by contributing to economic growth at the family, community, and national levels. It improves women’s opportunities for education, employment, and full participation in society.
Child planning and spacing enables girls and women achieve their ambitions. Whether they are in school, work in formal or informal occupations, women who have the benefit of choosing when to have children, how many children to have and how much time between each child, they are likely to do better in life. Studies have shown that women who have the ability to plan their children alongside their individual and family aspirations are able to go to school (and finish school), make better and higher incomes and are able participate in shared activities in their communities.
All these benefits not only accrue to the woman, but also her partner, her family and her community. Child planning and spacing also means better economic outcomes for counties and the nation.
Studies have shown that child planning and spacing leads to financial savings in the cost of healthcare service provision. Families are able to care for their children better. Feed, house, clothe and educate them better. Consequently, this reduces the burden on public amenities - health, water and sanitation as well as education.
As things stand, Kenyans who want to access family planning services to help them plan and space their children face high social and cultural barriers. We must not muddy the conversation with misinformation. Moreover, Kenya must continue to invest domestic resources towards quality family planning services at public health facilities to ensure Kenyan women (and their partners) who need it can access it.
Over the last 20 years, we have made good progress which we need to keep up. By investing more resources in public education and to have conversations about child planning and spacing, we can ensure that all Kenyans have the right information. This public education will help to dispel myths and misconceptions that have caused family planning to be misunderstood by many.
The media must also refrain from providing their platforms to politicians and other prominent personalities to misinform Kenyans about the benefits of child planning and spacing.