We were conducting a demographic study in Hattiban, a village in Nawalparasi District in the Inner Tarai of Nepal. The aim was to assess the high fertility rates in villages of the region.
We started with the question, “How many children have you given birth to?”
“Seven,” she answered, clearly hesitating.
“You want those that did not make it?”
“What’s the use of counting those who are gone?”
“It is required for our study, sister.”
“Can you give a job to my son?”
We convinced her that this was not possible as we were mere student-researchers. The son she had referred to came closer and coaxed her to answer our question.
“Sixteen,” she said softly.
She was 40 years old, had given birth sixteen times and there were probably more offsprings “written” in her future.
This woman from Hattiban is living proof of the failure of Nepal’s public health programmes, its school system , its family planning projects. She was born in 1950, which means that she has lived through four “development decades”, the term the United Nations likes to use, without any one of them touching her.
Why do thousands of mothers like her continue to bear children beyond conceivable limits? Of course, the answer lies in the old list of highs and lows: high ‘natural fertility’, low age at marriage, high infant and child mortality, low literacy…
Rather than continue to adopt high-sounding declarations, resolutions and programmes of action, it may be better to have one family planning slogan that says it all: “Let them have one dozen children: four to survive, eight to die.”
Acharya is with the Central Department of Population Studies, T.U., Kathmandu.