Kerala Church’s new prayer: Make babies

published on December 29, 2013

He is a 47-year-old bank officer and she is 43. The Catholic couple in Thrissur, Kerala, have two daughters aged 20 and 16. When the younger one shifted to a hostel for her class XII a year ago, the two, says the husband, felt a sudden emptiness.

She started talking about a third child. Age deterred them, as well as the fact that she had undergone tubectomy. But seven months ago, they took the plunge, she underwent reverse tubectomy and they are now awaiting a third child.

Some may chuckle at their decision to have a child at this age but the one place where they will receive a warm reception is their Church.

The Catholic Church that had taken the lead in ensuring family planning in Kerala in the 1960s and ‘70s — in a departure from its conservative beliefs — is now encouraging members to have four or more children to stem a decline in numbers.

The economically, educationally and politically powerful Catholics form a chunk of the state’s 19 per cent Christian population.  In fact, the prosperity of Catholics in Kerala has been partially attributed to their early adoption of family planning.

A combination of factors is responsible for the decline in Kerala’s Catholic population — the number of Christian migrants to European and American countries, the rise in the number of employed women who decided to limit the number of their offspring and late marriages by the educated.

Such has been the fall in numbers that in several parts, three- or four-formation houses for fresh recruits have been merged due to shortage of novices for nunhood.

Eager that the call for more children should not be seen as a measure to retain numbers, the Church underlines that it’s part of its pro-life stance, which extends to objection to abortion.

The Church shifted its focus from anti-abortion to promotion of bigger families in early years of the last decade.

Later, it started offering incentives to couples begetting four or more children.

Now, the family apostolate departments in dioceses have teams to preach the necessity of increasing the community count to every prospective bride and groom.

Fr Jose Kottayil, secretary, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) Commission for Family, says, “The Church is promoting responsible parenthood. We are asking healthy and financially sound couples to beget more than three. Our drive to break the one- or two-child norm has now got the attention of non-Catholic Christian segments. We want all communities to promote bigger families and a culture of pro-life. We don’t want to give a communal colour to this initiative.”

Dioceses planned a show of bigger families to take on a state government-appointed panel that said the number of children in a family should be fixed at two.

The commission for the rights and welfare of children, headed by ex-Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer, said in 2011 that families with more than two children should be denied government benefits and those campaigning against family planning should be jailed for three months. It also suggested facilities for free-of-cost termination of pregnancy.

As Christian and Muslim organisations warned the government against implementing the recommendations without deliberations, the report was put on the backburner.

“The recommendations galvanised young parents to demonstrate big families. The dioceses came forward to recognise couples with more than four children,” said Kottayil.

A rough estimate by the KCBC Family Commission shows the Church has around 10,000 young couples with four or more children.

Gatherings of such couples are regularly held across Kerala. Last month, one such meeting was held in Thrissur. The archdiocese of Thalassery in North Kerala held a festival of life on December 14 for couples with five or more children, with the youngest one born after January 2011.

Although the KCBC has no strict framework to promote bigger families, the message has been conveyed: Church-run hospitals are offering reverse tubectomy at low rates; they have cut or waived the bill on delivery of a fourth child; the tuition fee for the fourth child has been waived or reduced; the fourth child is given preference in admission in unaided schools run by the Church.

The message: Financial constraint should not come in the way of begetting children.

Dioceses also have other strategies.

To learn about it read complete report @

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