Iraqis shun large families as living costs soar
Recent years have seen Iraqis curbing the size of their families in order to bring down the bills of healthcare, education and general living costs. Couples are having less children - no more than five - in contrast to the large extended families of the past where around ten children would be the norm, whether they lived in rural villages or in cities, when one of the only things which would stand in the way of efforts to have large families was illness.
Children - a gift from God
Iraqis on modest incomes used to see their offspring as a gift from God. Convincing themselves that having lots of children would not hinder their ability to provide for them, they would say: "God will provide". However, many now say that times have changed drastically from how they were in their parents' and grandparents' times.
Some parents who were bought up in large families think that life in the past was easier because employment opportunities were available to everyone. Moreover, the price of basic goods and essentials were affordable for those on small incomes, which made having large families easy.
"Previously, life was easier, and having lots of children didn’t really affect the income of the family or their living standards"
This is what Fadel Hasnawi (37) says, who works as a teacher in a secondary school in Baghdad. He explains to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that despite having been married for 11 years he only has two boys, emphasising that he and his wife, who works at the Ministry of Trade, were happy with the size of the family and didn’t want more children.
Life's fast pace prohibiting large families
Hasnawi is the seventh out of his five brothers and four sisters. He says that circumstances today are completely different to how they were in the past. Previously, life was easier, and having lots of children didn’t really affect the income of the family or their living standards.
Hasnawi's wife, Farah Abbas, also grew up in a large family and has nine siblings. She agrees with her husband, saying: "The fast pace of life today doesn't help in having a lot of children. My husband and I try to make as much money as we can, and we have been able to build up and maintain a small household.
"Our goal is simple - to bring up our sons in a safe environment and provide them with a good education. This is not easy today in Iraq with the decline of the education and health sectors."
The destruction of Iraq's once envied public sector
Iraqis say that citizens have suffered the deterioration of all services and sectors in the country, among them education at all levels, from primary school to university. This is evidenced, they say, by the fact that Iraq has plummeted to the bottom of international education ranking systems.
Similarly, Iraq's health sector has crumbled to the extent that many citizens now travel overseas for treatment if they can afford it. According to reports from the Office for Financial and Administrative Oversight, most hospitals and health centres lack specialised doctors and medical supplies. Some hospitals have no choice but to use expired medicines due to lack of funds and support.
"Basic services used to be provided as free, public services throughout the country, and for a long time the health and education sectors in Iraq were considered among the best in the region"
These basic services used to be provided as free, public services throughout the country, and for a long time the health and education sectors in Iraq were considered among the best in the region. So says Rafid Abdulaziz, who today sets aside a proportion of his salary to cover the costs of the education and health of his family. Abdulaziz has three children, all at secondary school.
He says he used to want lots of children, so they could grow up like he had and "live the life he had". He says, despite his father having a relatively low income from his job as a civil servant, he had faced no barriers when it came to his sons' and daughters' educations. Furthermore, they had been guaranteed access to the best healthcare services free of charge.
"The education was of a high standard, and the teachers were dedicated to their work. And it didn't cost families anything. We didn’t need private lessons, private teachers and top-up courses, and the hospitals and health clinics offered the highest quality services for free, or for very low fees. Citizens could buy a home with government support and low-interest loans – these no longer exist.
"I have been forced to send my children to private schools and register them for extra courses due to the poor standards of the government schools today. Similarly, if we need medical care, we go to private hospitals because the standards in government hospitals are so bad. This is the reason I am content to have a small family".
Family prospects more important than size
The old saying, "There is nothing more precious than children, except grandchildren", expresses the deep love of grandparents for their grandchildren, and the dream of being surrounded in old age by lots of grandchildren. However, today the challenges and pressures of high living costs and other issues in the country have caused many to give up these dreams in the hope of preserving the unity of the families of their descendants.
Hajj Shakir Hamami is in his 70s, and says he used to think he would have more than 80 grandchildren. He had married two wives, who had had seven girls and eight boys between them. However, he explains that all his children are married but his grandchildren only number 36.
"The longevity and success of a small family is preferable to the failure of a large family"
Although his wish had not been realised, Hamami says, "the longevity and success of a small family is preferable to the failure of a large family", emphasising that he no longer encourages people to have big families. He adds "I advised my children to avoid having big families, in fact anyone who was married or thinking of it. Life is no longer easy like it was in the days of our youth".
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko