Socio-Economic Impacts from Unsustainable Population Growth
Children, Street Children, Child Labor, Slavery
First published in the Durago Herald, by Richard Grossman MD
The prevention of unwanted pregnancy is more important than ever for the well-being of the family.
One of my strongest memories from medical school was a delivery I assisted with. This was the mother's fifth child and a quick birth. I proudly held up the newborn boy to show him to his mother. She turned her head away and cried.
I don't remember the names of the mother or baby, who would be about 44 years old now. How his life has gone is only conjecture, but the likelihood is that his path has not been an easy one.
We generally assume that all adults are cut out to be parents, but that is not true. Forced parenthood can have unhappy consequences for the adults, and especially for the children. This column examines the outcomes of children of unwilling parents. Next month's column will include the words written by a person who, herself, was born unwanted.
The biggest and best analysis of children born unwanted was done in Czechoslovakia at a time when women had limited access to legal abortion. An American psychologist, Dr. Henry David, collaborated with Czech counterparts. Czech women had two chances to request an abortion in the 1960s. The first chance was at a local clinic. If the woman were turned down, she could apply again at a regional level, the last resort for a legal abortion. Unfortunately, the many advantages of adoption were not considered in this study.
One of the Czech psychologists had a list of women who had been twice denied for the same pregnancy. Because of the excellent record keeping of that country, the children born to these women with unwanted pregnancies could be followed for many years. They were carefully matched to children who were desired-same age, same socioeconomic class, same school etc. All the families lived in Prague, the country's capital.
These people, both those who were unwanted before birth and the "normal" controls, were examined and tested at age 9, in adolescence and again in their early 20s. The investigators also looked at records, interviewed parents and spoke with teachers.
The two groups of people ended up significantly different despite growing up in very similar circumstances. Compared to the people who resulted from pregnancies that were planned (or at least accepted), those born unwanted did not fare so well in life.
Specifically, the babies who had been unwanted were not breastfed as long, and did not achieve as well in school even though their intelligence tests were as good as the more desired children. They were more likely to be less social and more disruptive and hyperactive, and were more likely to have criminal records. When asked as adolescents, the children who had been unwanted believed their mothers showed less maternal interest than did the control group.
The young adults in their 20s were asked how they felt about their lives. Again there was a significant difference, with the people who were unplanned being less satisfied with their lives, with their love relationships, with their own mental health and with their jobs. It is interesting that their sexual debut was at an earlier age and they had more sexual partners than control people. Thus, these people were more likely to beget another generation of unwanted pregnancies.
There are exceptions to the general rule, fortunately. Dr. David's research found three groups of women who requested abortions but were denied. Some had temporary motivation for wanting to abort, such as financial reasons. These women usually accepted the pregnancy and both mother and child did well. For other women the pregnancy resulted from a poor relationship, and they did not do so well with childrearing. The third group of women apparently realized from the beginning that they would not be good parents, and the study, unfortunately, bore this out. Both the women and their children did not fare well.
The Czech study was of women who were denied legal abortion. Those who were allowed to have abortion must have had even more compelling reasons to not parent. If they had been forced to bear their unwanted kids, presumably these children would have had even more severe problems.
What does this mean? A person resulting from an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy starts off life with a handicap, like the baby I delivered in medical school. This can have consequences for society, too. There is a controversial theory, popularized in Freakonomics, that the downturn in serious crime in the USA noted in the early 1990s was due to the decrease in unwanted pregnancies after the legalization of abortion in 1973.
Children in Poor Countries Need HelpInternational Herald Tribune
2.2 billion of the world's people are under 18 years old, with 2 billion from developing countries, according to UN University Vice Rector Ramesh Thakur and UNICEF Japan Director Manzoor Ahmed. 30,500 children under 5 years old die every day of preventable diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition.
Every month, 50,000 children under 15 are infected with AIDS. Of all children in developing countries, 20% of those ages 5 to 15 are engaged in child labor in hazardous and harmful conditions, 30% under 5 are underweight, nearly 40% suffer from stunted growth, and over 50% are malnourished. Foreign aid dropped to a historic low in 1998 of 0.2% of the GPD of the OECD countries, well below the internationally agreed target of 0.7%. Ironically, income jumped and aid declined by 30% from 1992 to 1997. More children today live in poverty than 10 years ago, and more children find themselves in a more violent and unstable environment
UNICEF reports that stunting in kids -- a sign of poor nutrition early in life -- has dropped by a third in the past two decades, there is still much progress to be made. A quarter of kids under the age of 5 were stunted worldwide in 2011, with nearly 75 percent of them living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
In East Asia and Latin America stunting has decreased by a whopping 70 and 50%, respectively. Even very poor countries, like Ethiopia and Nepal, have quickly made progress against malnutrition and stunting.
Stunted kids are more likely to get sick, and they tend to have a harder time in school, which can translate to lower paying jobs later in life.
51% of Niger children are stunted. One of three children die of hunger. Their graves dot the landscape.
One of every three girls in Niger marries before age 15, one of the highest birth-rates in the world. By marrying off their daughters at such young age, it's one less mouth to feed and it brings in a dowry from the groom's family, money desperately needed to feed the mouths of the many other hungry souls.
One Billion People Forgotten in the Global Fight Against Poverty: UNICEF Report Reveals How Adolescents Have Been MarginalizedMarch 4, 2011, Guardian (London)
This year's UNICEF's State of the World's Children report focuses on adolescents. There are, in the world, 1.2 billion 10- to 19-year-olds, who are pivotal in global efforts to reach the UN millennium development goals targets by 2015.
Adolescents are often marginalized in development budgets and programs, which, if not corrected, investment in global poverty, health, education and employment goals will be compromised.
As babies or young children when the MDGs were established in 2000, many adolescents will have been the direct beneficiaries of the big global gains in child survival, primary education, access to safe water and sanitation. Infant mortality has dropped 33% in 11 years.
But this investment and support will taper off because development programs are not sufficiently making the link between an investment in early childhood and the need to consolidate these gains into early adulthood.
While millions of children have been vaccinated against dangerous diseases, a third of all new HIV cases worldwide involve 15- to 24-year-olds. In Brazil, 26,000 children under the age of one were saved between 1998-2008, but in that decade 81,000 teenagers were murdered.
Adolescence is the time when young people are at the highest risk of dangers such as child marriage, forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. But child protection resources and assistance will not reach them.
Adolescence is the pivotal decade where poverty and inequality pass on to the next generation, and this is especially true when poor adolescent girls who become mothers.
Almost half the world's adolescents do not attend secondary school. Girls are still far less likely to attend secondary education than boys. Educated adolescent girls are less likely to marry early or get pregnant, and have a better knowledge of HIV/Aids and health issues.
Adolescence is also a time when other cultural forms of gender discrimination come into play, and is the best time to confront and challenge institutionalised attitudes and behaviours. In some countries younger girls are more likely to excuse violence as older women.
In a world that is gripped by social and political insecurity, spiralling food prices and rising unemployment, a stronger focus on adolescents is crucial.
81 million young people are unemployed and 15- to 24-year-olds make up one-quarter of the world's working poor. This will have a significant impact on future economic recovery and growth.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than 20% of international companies consider inadequate education of the potential workforce to be a significant obstacle to higher investment and faster economic recovery.
While the Mid East is a "star performer" in terms of development indicators such as health and education, unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds stands at over 25%. With two-thirds of the region's population now below 24, young people are not being absorbed into the economy and employers are complaining of poor education and low skills.
Youth unemployment and a lack of political voice are not included in prominent measures of development.