Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in a recent address, drew attention to the island’s falling population growth rate and outlined projections over a number of years.
It was very pleasing to observe that his comments, unlike those attributed to some recent commentators, were balanced, mature and devoid of the recklessness and insensitivity which characterized statements on this subject in the recent past.
Reversing the falling population growth rate is not insurmountable. However, it requires a level of knowledge, skill and experience which is readily available to any government or society genuinely serious about committing to this delicate task.
Empty rhetoric and high sounding mouthings, purely for public consumption, will not get the desired results since,by its very nature, human reproduction is private, personal and often compounded by religious, cultural and socio-economic considerations.
Government’s first step must be the establishment of a working group charged with the responsibility of producing a National Population Policy for consideration by relevant authorities and stakeholders.This policy must be informed by a number of very important considerations.
These include the carrying capacity of Barbados given its size, existing population density, coping capacity of existing social and other relevant services, life expectancy rate, an analysis of our population statistics over the last sixty years or so and other such dimensions with relevance to the existing and projected quality of life.
The desired population, as determined, must be clearly stated and a strategic framework established with provision for the continuous evaluation of the “project” to ensure timely adjustment when required. Political affiliation and religious persuasion must not be part of the criteria for selection to the suggested working group.
The population must be for a projected period of not less than 20 years in the first instance.
I am on record as saying that couples and women in particular could be persuaded to embrace this national objective if they were presented with a comprehensive range of compelling incentives which included some or all of the following:
• Ready access to affordable, high quality antenatal services.
• Expanded gynaecological services in a more client-friendly atmosphere.
• Upgraded and diversified birthing facilities.
• Expanded maternity and paternity leave.
• More affordable baby products.
• Expanded and upgraded day care and nursery school facilities with more flexible hours.
• Guaranteed nursery school places at affordable costs coupled with appropriate after school supervision.
• Special tax allowances for at least the first two children born to mothers between a specified age range.
These incentives should go a long way towards motivating buy-in from professional women and women generally. In the case of unemployed or under-employed women, critical material support would have to be agreed upon.
One NGO capable of helping to lead this charge could be the Barbados Family Planning Association which, as stated by a senior Government official, has been “too successful” in contributing to the slowing of the population growth rate over the period of more than 60 years.
The BFPA has ready access to the skills, experience and human resources capable of making a decisive difference to the success or failure of this initiative.
For what it is worth, I have given a brief insight into some of the critical factors relevant to any meaningful change in our nation’s population growth profile. The sooner Government gets cracking, the better it will be for all concerned.
(George Griffith, a social development advocate consultant, is a former executive director of the Barbados Family Planning Association)