COVID-19 baby boom and the pains to come
In December and January, a lot of families shall be welcoming newborns that were conceived during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Projections showed that more than half are unintended pregnancies and in families that are already dense and on the economic edge. Compared to other climes, the narrative could have been different had there been options in social utilities to derive external pleasure, especially at a time of major crisis. Again, this points to the fact that our society is not even paying attention to the basics of socio-economic development. And that is a social issue that should bother not only social scientists but also moral thinkers.
There was once a moral philosopher in the ancient period that asserts that pleasure is the ultimate good. Epicurus posits that pleasure is the greatest good, while pain is the greatest evil. His pleasure ethics seems valid because life is short and should not be lived in pains. But the problem is that not all pleasures are good, and not all pains are evil. Utilitarian philosophers in the modern period saw this flaw of Epicureans and refined ethics. Instead of pleasure (bodily or sensual), why not make happiness the end goal of moral actions? Eating, drinking, and having sex come immediately to minds as paradigm cases of pleasure. Happiness, on the other hand, is usually less immediately tied down to the body – belonging more to the mind or spirit than the body and long-lasting. There is sense to assert that many Nigerians are still in the quest for momentary pleasure rather than happiness, as the COVID-19 episode shows.
Social scientists can tell that a prolonged lockdown lasting more than 30 days is abnormal in modern settings, and individual psychology and responses would vary. Apparently, in panic mode and without a good understanding of what the pandemic is, the Federal Government followed in the lockstep of advanced countries to declare a complete lockdown, which lasted more than a month. It was an unusual holiday for many and the immediate gain was the reunion in many families. It was the first time many homes had a full complement of members for days without distraction of social engagements. Father, mother, children and extended family members were all confined – by fear of infection and States’ orders. It was fun for homes that were used to companionship. It was strange to those already used to absenteeism and visiting members. Where the lockdown worked positively, it offered rollicking time between spouses, with the likelihood of another baby nine months after.
The assumption is that the average human being often reacts to boredom with a craving for pleasure, including sex. In the aggregate, many in middle and low-income countries, including Nigeria, fall in this category. During the lockdown, reported cases of rape, sexual offence and gender abuse spiked in Lagos and Kano. The Domestic and Gender Violence Response Team in Lagos recorded a 60 per cent rise in domestic violence; 30 per cent increase in sexual violence and 10 per cent in physical child abuse. It was expected in densely populated neighbourhoods where the only means of pleasure are alcohol and sex. Citizens of rich countries also reported boredom during the lockdown, but many were scared of the future. Recall that while the pandemic prevalence was like a child’s play in a place like Nigeria, Europe and America were recording daily death tolls in thousands. It was not the time to start a family. Many citizens called off their weddings and those already married put off having new kids with heavy dependence on contraceptives.
Craving for pleasure and sex, however, does not necessarily mean more babies. But it has a high likelihood of becoming the consequence where COVID-19 disrupts medical supplies, including contraceptives as recorded in developing countries. The price to pay for the uncontrolled desire for pleasure and sex is evident in the socio-economic situation that the country finds itself. Household incomes are undergoing serious stress tests with single income sources unable to sustain many homes; galloping inflation is not a friend of the poor neither the rich, but the latter appears to have a buffer that is non-existent to the former; the unemployment rate is at its all-time high with the total number of individuals employed in the country declining to 35.6 million in 2020 Q2, while the majority of those employed are underemployed; population to GDP is equally not at par with global recommendations. With low productivity witnessed across different sectors of the economy, except for the ‘other room’, the consequences of rapid population growth with less contribution to GDP should be a source of worry to everyone, like our invasion into neigbouring countries is already overwhelming their growing economies. The aftermath of the EndSARS protests is an indication of what is to come if population growth is not checked at the current rate. Rather than a blessing, our population is gradually becoming a curse vis-à-vis the GDP contribution. Countries with lesser population produce higher GDP than the performance of many Nigerians, despite our abundant resources.
Fundamentally, our socio-cultural and religious makeup is still primitive and alien to modern society. Worldwide, a baby is a bundle of joy to the family and instrumental in the preservation of the human race. Unlike other climes, the baby is a must for a married African woman. Our culture still insists on having children in number, and organised religions largely support it. Injunctions like “go ye into the world and multiply” “the lord that gives babies shall feed them” are still in vogue despite no evidence to support such assertions in today’s society. Procreate and multiply can hardly be good advice in a society that has inadequate health facilities, high rate of mortality and morbidity, huge unemployment, out-of-pocket education and healthcare among other crippling burdens. But the elites who want the best for their wards are already playing by that rule. That may explain why Managing Directors are having an average of two kids, while gatemen, on a minimum wage pay, are raising nine kids from multiple wives, and drivers place an average of five kids on N50, 000 monthly incomes, or less. Yet, the gateman and driver would still wonder if their oga has fertility problems, or why their lots are not as lucky.
Going forward, our primordial mindsets deserve proper appraisal and deconstruction to align more with happiness than pleasure. First, it should begin with a collective effort to democratise social utilities to avail multiple means of deriving good pleasure for all, beyond sex alone. It begins with more job opportunities, social recreation centres and public infrastructure, education opportunities and so on. Second, family health campaigns should return to the front burner. Policymakers and public officeholders should stop being irresponsible, showing off large families as evidence of their virility. Some literally put religious sentiments and superstitions in the way of birth control methods and pragmatic response to social realities. A few years ago, there were complaints by foreign aid partners that the Federal Government did not avail counterpart funding to birth control programmes. The then minister of finance was alleged to have withheld the fund because her religious faith forbids contraceptives. That is a scandal that has no place in modern society and should never happen again.
Indeed, it is okay to crave for pleasure; so far it does not have counterbalance pains to the self and others. Disproportionate addition to the population especially from unplanned pregnancies is not a good pleasure or a way to collective happiness. We may not be able to avert another pandemic or immediately end the current one. But we can over time control how the people react to a crisis, to yield more happiness for the society; not more avoidable pains.