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YEMEN For Yemenis, the struggle starts with a family

Population Day highlights social factors that compound dire economic situation

By Saeed Al Batati, Correspondent
July 22, 2012

Sana’a: Family planning campaigns held across Yemen in connection with Population Day seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The political crisis that flared in the country last year saw people significantly cutting down on their needs in terms of food, clothing and housing but it has hardly made the average Yemeni any more circumspect about having fewer children.

Mohammad, not his real name, a resident of Hamadan district of Sana’a province, proudly declares that he has 12 children. “I’m not worried about having many children. They can eat from what we grow.”

The ready-made answer when people ask him why he has a big family is “God is the sustainer and will provide them with food.”

Despite facing abject poverty, malnutrition and a lack of health facilities, Yemenis still insist that having as many children as they can is a privilege. The poverty-stricken country is one of the world’s least developed and is hardly in a position to check the rapid population growth and high maternal mortality.

“I was flabbergasted when I saw a mother of ten at our centre complaining that she could not have any more children,” said Dr Eman Zubair Al Dayani, a community doctor and the director of a branch of Marie Stopes International Yemen, a British provider of sexual and reproductive health-care services.

“Another woman who has 15 children but also suffered 10 miscarriages came to us seeking advice on how she could still have more children,” Eman said. She said the concepts of contraception, birth control, family-planning and reproductive health were still alien to many people.

The birth of a girl child puts women under extreme pressure in families and leads to repeated pregnancies, she said. “Yemenis gloat about having many male children regardless of their standard of living. The problem is when women give birth to girls; this leads to a cycle of pregnancies until a boy is born.”

According to health professionals working in reproductive centres, there are several reasons why many Yemenis like to have big families. In many places, couples have little information about family planning to go by.

“When a mother of six or seven children comes to our clinic, we ask her if she uses any contraceptive methods? Very often we discover that people doesn’t know anything about such methods,” a doctor said.

In rare instances, couples use traditional but often unreliable methods of contraception or just practice abstinence.

Abu Ahmad told Gulf News he decided to space out his family when his wife gave birth to his third child. “I have tried all means to stop having more children but to no avail. I now have five children. I think my wife is not having the pills as directed. It is very difficult to survive with many children.”

There are people who avoid contraception methods due to religious considerations. In rural areas, people prefer to have many children to help them on their farms.

Abdullah, a father of seven, provides another justification for his large family. He thinks that using birth control pills is harmful. “I don’t want my wife to take the pills. They cause cancer. Better to have many children than to have sick wife.”

Dr Eman says: “Changing people’s attitude can’t be achieved overnight. We target women gathering at mosques by giving them tips on how to delay, space or limit their childbearing. There is only little change. I suggest that the awareness campaigns should mainly target the fathers as they take all major decisions in the family.”

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