Extra mural

Science in society – politics, development and social justice.

No child born to die

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Here in lies a brief comment on this new Save the Children campaign. The advert for which is below.


Embedded from YouTube.com. Originally uploaded by Save the Children UK 


A few weeks ago I saw Lord Robert Winston speak about the urgent need for greater scientific literacy in UK school leavers. He spoke about the responsibility scientists have to society to ensure their work is widely understood. Then people will be able to make informed value judgments, rather than relying on propaganda from the Pro- and Con- camps. It will enhance the debate over vaccines, genetic modification, animal testing among others. It is key to this goal of improved understanding of science in society that researchers reach out to the public, especially school children.

Lord Winston took questions from the floor; one irritated me.

Questioner’s query ran along the lines of: “You say scientists have a responsibility to society. Should they not be exercising that responsibility by helping limit population growth?” Rather than finding ways of saving the millions and millions of lives prematurely snuffed out by disease, famine and poverty – it was implied – surely it would be better to halt procreation?

Lord Winston’s response was one that I hole-heartedly support. People have many offspring, women are seen as baby making factories and children are sources of income for family groups because the prospects for those children are so bleak. If they don’t expire from a multitude of diseases or road accidents, children have such a poor outlook all they will be able to achieve is scraping together a pittance from a bottom rung job.

Poverty, lack of basic infrastructure and poor education means the more sprogs a family can generate, the more are likely to survive past the age of five and so bring in money to the family unit, supporting elderly dependents.

Now we have the welfare state and Saga holidays, you don’t really need the kiddywinks

We should not seek to limit the number of children born but create conditions where people do not have to have six or eight children. As disease was rid from the UK’s shores so families shrank. Smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, cholera, pertussis – all gone as lethal threats to British children. Suddenly a family could be as large or as small as it wanted to be. Our Victorian ancestors feared the workhouse when they finally got too old to support themselves and therefore had to have loads of babies. Now we have the welfare state and Saga holidays, you don’t really need the kiddywinks.

It is not fair that parents in London can decide how many children to have but parents in Lagos cannot. It is not fair that a child born in Battersea can aspire to greatness but a child in Bangalore cannot.

I fear that some people will see the Save the Children campaign and worry about crises. The food crisis, oil crisis, water crisis, anthropogenic global warming – all would disappear if there were not so many hungry mouths to feed. Those hungry mouths are hungry minds as well. They are full of potential never realised. Rather than fret over population bloat perhaps it would be better to try and solve the problem by lending a helping hand. If we don’t, the perpetual motion of birth and death will continue in the developing world unabated. Populations will swell as those that survive past their fifth birthday grow up with the aching poverties: of money and of aspiration.


One Response

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  1. Thanks so much for this post. It’s absolutely spot on.


    July 25, 2011 at 4:27 pm

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