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Childless by choice, a growing movement

2 August, 2020 01:02:49
Childless by choice, a growing movement

Nearly two decades ago, in September 1999, researchers at Cornell University, USA, published a report titled, ‘Will Limits of the Earth’s Resources Control Human Numbers?’ In other words, how large a population can the earth reasonably support, so that everyone can live relatively prosperous, healthy lives? The answer as documented in the report: 2 billion, that too in the year 2100.

And the Earth’s current population? 7.8 billion. Unless urgent steps are taken to control the numbers, we are looking at a figure of 12 billion by 2100. A self-explanatory statistic if ever there was one.

Given this context, International Childfree Day, celebrated annually on August 1, assumes critical importance. Instituted in the USA in 1973 by the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood, the day celebrates those who voluntarily choose not to have children. It has also been described as “a day of celebration worldwide for those couples who have faced criticism, ridicule, and rejection because they chose to be Childless by Choice”.

What started out as an essentially Western movement reached Indian shores quite a while ago. Despite the premium that Indian society places on such concepts as parenthood (specifically motherhood) and happy families, an increasing number of Indians are choosing to remain childless, or ‘child-free’.

Among them are Kolkata couple Tathagata and Debapriya Bhattacharya*. Now in their mid-40s and married for nearly two decades, the working couple decided not to have children primarily owing to the fact that both their jobs involved too much travel for them to devote enough time to a growing family. “Rather than compromise their upbringing, we decided not to have kids,” says Debapriya. 

Such examples of ‘non-parenting’ have the approval of consulting psychologist Dr Suvarna Sen, who is also a faculty and trainer. “I really appreciate those who are honest enough to say that they will not have children out of a sense of responsibility. As it is, 90 percent of parents do a shoddy job of raising kids, in my opinion, teaching them all kinds of wrong values and principles, or punishing them excessively,” she says.

In her late 30s, advertising professional Indrani Ghosh*, also childless by choice, has added reason to support her decision. Last year, she separated from her husband of 13 years, and the couple are now headed for a divorce. “Our decision was initially prompted by a reluctance to bring a child into this highly chaotic and overpopulated world. The future of humankind seemed really dark, and we didn’t want our child to suffer life on this earth. Today, whatever else has gone wrong between us, at least we need not worry about the fate of our children,” she says.

In the Indian context, the decision not to have a child is not an easy one. Indrani says her own parents thought she was being “selfish and self-centred”, and was sacrificing the joys of motherhood at the altar of a rapidly growing career. What’s more, when she briefly considered the idea of adopting a child, the opposition within the family was even stronger.

As Dr Sen says, “Indian society has constructed two overhyped concepts – that of female virginity, and of motherhood, which is supposed to ‘complete’ a woman. I would say the decision to not have a child defies this societal notion. It is like saying, ‘I am a complete human in myself, and if you think not having a child makes me incomplete, to hell with that’.”

Marketing professional Subhasish Bose*, 43, says when he and his wife found out they would require medical treatment if they wished to have children, they did make a few half-hearted visits to a fertility clinic. Increasingly, though, the prospect of a life free of children began to seem more and more tempting. “No anxiety about their education, homework, no guilt about not spending quality time, the freedom to lead our lives as we chose – all of that became more important in the end,” he says.

A UK-based organisation called Population Matters campaigns against population growth which, it says, contributes to “environmental degradation, resource depletion, poverty and inequality”, according to the Guardian. Its list of patrons includes David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Lionel Shriver and Jane Goodall. Clearly, it is a list growing worldwide.

*Names changed on request

All images are representational.

Story Tag:
  • International Childfree Day

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