In February last year Rwanda made a move towards limiting family size to three children per family. The idea of a law restricting families to three children was introduced to the Senate for debate.
The success of the three children per couple rule would, according to experts, help to reduce poverty in one of Africa’s most densely populated countries.
In a country where many people would want to have many children as a result of the 1994 genocide, a number of people expected the opposite.
This policy is akin to the one child policy that was adopted by China as a measure to curb population growth. China being the most populous country in the world, with more than one million births per five weeks, seeks to control its population by giving a number of incentives to people who abide by the one child per family policy.
In Rwanda, families have on average six children. Marie Muhooza, a single mother in Remera suburb, Kigali, has for years struggled to bring up her six children, single handedly.
“After the death of my husband six years ago, I easily realised that I would have a lot of problems raising my children. But with the grace of God I have managed to send all of them to school,” she says
Muhooza’s life is an illustration of how many large families go through thick and thin in order to get by. She adds “when we got married our relatives expected us to have many children, which many said was a sign of success”.
Muhooza says that her six children are a blessing from God. She says that many young couples should reflect on how they want to live their lives, and that, should guide them on how big or small they plan their families.
She adds that it should be a matter of understanding between the authorities and the families. This is also reflected in the words of the culture minister Joseph Habineza.
“The people have to own this program, and once that happens we will easily succeed because they will feel it is not being forced on them,” the minister says.
African culture celebrates having many children. Habineza is optimistic that with education and sensitisation people will easily adapt, adding that even in China, people used to have many children, but with time it became acceptable to the majority, that population control was necessary.
“We have to simply be realistic and know what we are capable of. It is unviable to have a big family in Rwanda,” explain Habineza.
He admits that people are always resistant to change and that that may be a problem in the initial stages of implementing the three children per couple programme.
The programme is not yet law but is being encouraged by the government. Habineza argues that people should embrace the policy on their own.
“The economic benefits of this policy are obvious,” he explains. Adding that, it is cheaper for a family of three to live a better life than a family of eight earning the same income.
Mukayuhi, 62, a business woman at Kisementi in Remera, says that in the past people produced as many children as they could.
“In our time people would produce and leave it up to God to raise the kids,” she explains. Many young couples seem to have already embraced the initiative. Uwimana, 30, argues that having few children in this age in Rwanda is a sound idea.
“We have three children and my husband has no problem with that at the moment. I do not know if he will change his mind or not in the future”
Education is key
Habineza believes that education of girls will play a major role in the success of the policy. He adds that by staying in school longer, girls get married later and this has an impact on the number of children they may have.
Habineza explains that women who have high levels of education tend to have fewer children than the less educated.
“Having many children interrupts the careers of many educated women.” The result, he says, is that many career women opt to have one or two children so that they have time to focus on their careers.
Demographers have argued that such a policy at times creates a problem of negative population growth. Habineza admits; “that has happened in European countries where some families have even started starting to look for kids to adopt”.
But he hastens to add that a country with challenges like Rwanda ought to focus on the positive aspects of such a policy. For a country that lost many people in the genocide, such a policy would be expected to raise mixed reactionsa.
But Habineza explains that though Rwandans lost many people in the Genocide, people ought to embrace this policy for its numerous benefits.
“It is unfortunate that we lost many people as a country, but nevertheless, this policy is relevant to our current circumstances”.