Birth of Baby Seven Billion: Is it cause for celebration or concern? Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Nov. 03, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

A baby born on October 30 in the Philippines has been welcomed as one of the world’s symbolic “seven billionth” babies.

The Associated Press admitted that with all the babies born in the world on that day, it is impossible to pinpoint the arrival of the actual Baby Seven Billion. But the United Nations chose to mark Filipino Danica May Camacho as the symbolic seventh billion child. The parents and the baby were met by top United Nations officials in the Philippines, who presented the child with a small cake.

The birth of any child should be a happy occasion. However, the birth of Baby Seven Billion is being looked at as a cause for celebration by some and a reason for concern and even fear by others.

Confronting population expansion

Let’s start with the negative reactions. As Brooke Borel points out in an article “Countdown to Seven Billion: Should World Adopt ‘One-Child’ Policy” (on the Web site Life’s Little Mysteries), expansion of the world’s population means more mouths to feed, which requires more space and energy, increasing the demand on resources and the environment for the Earth to support.

Borel asks whether there should be a global one-child policy, like the one enforced in China starting in 1979. In  response to two decades of rapid population growth, the Chinese government limited each family to just one child (with some exceptions).

How has China’s policy been working? Borel notes that in terms of limiting population growth, the policy was successful, cutting China’s population by an estimated 250 million to 300 million people.

However, Borel points out that this success came with a price, including forced abortion and sterilization, mental health problems, and kidnapping and trafficking of women. Because of a preference for male children in China, sex-selective abortions have skewed the country’s male-female birth ratio, resulting in millions more men than women.

Problem of low fertility rates

The idea of a global one-child policy has even met with opposition from John Bongaarts, vice president of the Population Council, a global nonprofit. “There’s been a massive outcry over the one-child policy in China as coercive, and there’s not a single person that I know that would support it,” he said. “Plus, you don’t really want the fertility to decline to one child per woman, because you end up in the same problems as Japan has now, and nobody wants that.”

Fertility rates in Japan and throughout Europe are very low, at just 1.4 and 1.6 births per woman, respectively. In other regions, the rates are high, including Africa (4.7) and parts of Asia and Latin America. The U.S. is 2.1.

The problem in nations with low fertility rates — those that have rates so low that they won’t replace the current population — is that there are far more old people than young people. That means there is a greater burden on young people to financially and socially support their elders.
Bongaarts advocates government policies promoting birth control and sex education. In some cases, however, the Catholic Church and others are concerned about programs forcing use of contraceptives, abortion, and sterilization.

Cause for celebration

Among those celebrating the birth of Baby Seven Billion is the World Youth Alliance (WYA), a global coalition of young people seeking to affirm life. (Thanks to Jessica Smith, a pro-life blogger, for sharing information on the alliance.)

Kathryn Jean Lopez, in an article “This Baby Is a Boon: Welcoming ‘Baby Seven Billion’” on National Review Online, interviews WYA founder and CEO Anna Halpine, who insists that more children in the world are not the problem. “Children represent the hope for the future, and the creativity and talents that will continue to grapple with the problems we are all facing,” she said.

Halpine notes that even in situations of poverty, children are not the problem. “In many families, all over the world, children are both the impetus and the reason for families to seek to find a way out of poverty. We have to be careful not to blame the poverty, corruption, and mismanagement into which some children are born on the children themselves!”

I agree with Halpine that society needs to put the time and resources necessary into supporting women and families, rather than promoting strict population control as a simplistic solution to the complex problems facing society.

It is obvious that a declining population, not overpopulation, could be a longer-term challenge as fertility rates drop and a shrinking workforce is forced to support the social safety net for an aging society.

So, the bottom line is that we should celebrate the birth of Baby Seven Billion and work together as a society to find positive, life-affirming solutions to care for all the children and families of the world.