Indian women bear the burden of population growth

Married by her parents at the age of 14, the Indian Jaimala Devi had seven children because her husband absolutely wanted two sons

Indian women bear the burden of population growth

Married by her parents at the age of 14, the Indian Jaimala Devi had seven children because her husband absolutely wanted two sons. A common story in Bihar, a state in northeastern India and the poorest of the most populous country in the world.

Bihar's population growth is the fastest in the country. With approximately 127 million inhabitants, its population is almost as large as that of Mexico.

India's birth rate has fallen as the country has grown wealthier, but poverty and deep-rooted patriarchy in Bihar are contributing to the nation's population growth.

"Having seven children and managing everything on my own sometimes drives me crazy," Jaimala Devi, 30, who has never left her native village, told AFP.

"I thought we would be fine with one or two kids. But we had girls first, so that's why we have seven kids," she adds, implicitly explaining that she had to have sons. .

The young woman, her five daughters and two sons, live in a dilapidated one-room shack, equipped with a small television, an old fan and a few posters of Hindu deities on the exposed brick walls.

Subhash, the father of the family, absent most of the year, works as an unskilled storekeeper in New Delhi, the capital, from where he sends his meager salary.

Good paying jobs are rare in Bihar. Subhash believes that sacrificing his long absences to feed his children gives them a chance for future prosperity.

"Having more children is still a way to increase the number of family members who can earn an income," Parimal Chandra, director of the nonprofit Population Foundation of India (PFI), told AFP. lucrative.

Subhash's need to have sons reflects the patriarchal culture where men, once married and become fathers, take care of their own parents.

"With the birth of a boy, the family and the mother gain respect and pride," says Mr. Chandra.

A daughter, on the other hand, is generally seen as an expensive burden because of the dowry her parents are expected to pay for her marriage to the in-laws.

The poorest often seek to marry off their daughters early, like that of Jaimala Devi, who was married as a teenager.

This is particularly true in Bihar, where girls are often married very young and deprived of schooling. Just 55 percent of women in the state can read and write, the lowest female literacy rate in India, according to the National Family Health Survey.

According to Ms. Chandra, this "abysmal" statistic explains the high birth rate in the state, where women, deprived of education, are not educated to take charge of their lives, decide on a method of contraception and control the births.

The situation of Bihar was that of all India in the past. Today, with the improvement of living conditions, an Indian woman has two children on average, compared to six in 1960.

In Bihar, a woman has three children on average.

Raj Kumar Sada, 55, who has lost four of his five children, encourages the son who remains to him to have at least four children, "so that he has someone left", he argues to AFP.

"Families of four, five, six, seven, eight children are very normal here," he says.

Indira Kumari, a government health worker, cares for around 400 women in rural Bihar every month, most of whom do not have the freedom to choose how many children they want to have.

"Even if a woman wants to use family planning, her in-laws or her husband oppose it," Ms. Kumari told AFP.

In Bihar, the state government encourages girls to complete their schooling with financial incentives. The authorities distribute free condoms to allow women to start a family later and have fewer children.

These efforts, among others, caused Bihar residents to reconsider their family size, when a few years ago "just bringing up the subject was a real challenge", recalls Ritu Singh, analyst at the PFI.

Thus, Poonam Devi, a 26-year-old day laborer, chose to be sterilized after her fourth child.

"Here they say a woman is useless if she doesn't have a child after marriage," she told AFP. "Me, I told my husband, after our fourth child, that we had enough and that we should now take care of their food and their education. He accepted".

04/05/2023 11:13:41 -          Darbhanga (Inde) (AFP)           © 2023 AFP