Not having children is a gift to the planet, so not that selfish after all

In his recent address to an audience in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis told people who choose not to have children that they’re “selfish”. He said “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.” I am not a religious person, but I’m so sick of old, white, heterosexual men thinking they have the right to dictate what women should and should not do with their bodies and their lives, and using their power and podium to talk nonsense to masses of people.

And these words coming from a man who chose celibacy over children, and who lives in the smallest internationally recognised state with only 554 residents, housing only 30 women and 10 children. I wonder if we inhabit the same planet? The world’s population has surpassed 7 billion people — 7,294,500,100 to be more precise, but increasing by the second. A large proportion of people on the planet live in poverty, and an even larger proportion of those are women. According to Oxfam’s research on inequality and poverty, 80 people have the same wealth as half the world’s population, while nearly a billion people can barely afford to feed their families. So, I wonder how helpful it is to tell people, who have to do more for less just to get by, while the rich get richer making money off their toil, that they are being selfish if they choose not to have children? I won’t go into the obvious unequal burden of care work that women bear, but having and raising children is expensive, and time and energy consuming. Children require a lot of love, care and attention and you should really want to do it, rather than just follow some old-fashioned doctrine handed down by old, child-free men.

I think people are getting wiser, and have more freedom (and slightly less judgment) to makes choices based on serious consideration of the consequences of those choices, and that’s a good thing. What is wrong with considered, thoughtful choices made on a balance of what you’re able and willing to give another human being?

I shouldn’t be that surprised by his utterances given that his representatives, participating at the annual Commission on the Status of Women, spend their time trying to obstruct any advancement on women’s human rights and women’s sexual and reproductive rights in particular. Restrictive laws on abortion kept in place by the Catholic Church contribute to the deaths of 47 000 women a year due to unsafe abortions. The truth is that many women do not want and/ or cannot afford to bear children, but often have no choice in the matter. Why do women’s lives continue to be decided on by men, when clearly they make bad decisions?

I think it’s time we embrace women’s (single or coupled) right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and lives. If Pope Francis was informed he would know that people choose not to have children for many reasons, mostly nothing as nice a long holidays and second homes, but rather choosing not to live in poverty. In the current economic climate much better advice would be to give careful consideration to the consequences of those choices, both for you, and the person you bring into this world.

His grim warning to couples is that loving your pets instead of children will result in a life of bitterness and loneliness. He says, “It might be better, more comfortable, to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog … then, in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness”. Once again I question his authority to speak on the subject. But all the judgment aside, if you are selfish it’s probably best not to have children, for the sake of all people and planet, we really don’t need more unwanted children and we have stretched our planet to its limits. On the plus side having no, or fewer, children substantially reduces your carbon footprint, and is actually a gift to the planet, so not that selfish after all.

Image – Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience at St Peter’s square on February 11, 2015, at the Vatican. (AFP)