Mutual respect needed


FAITH-based organisations (FBOs) say they are not against family planning, although some issues remain a bone of contention. But still, all can do their part.

Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) executive director Karen Sichinga says abstinence is not a total failure because some youths have chosen to abstain from sex until marriage and this has worked for them.

“The church will teach abstinence alongside behaviour formation because it is their belief and people should respect it,” says Sichinga, who rebutted critics who accuse FBOs of hindering family planning work and saying that premarital sex is outdated, and that adolescents should be given contraceptive choices.

Sichinga says there should be mutual respect between the two groups.

In Zambia, which is 90% Christian, society has struck a balance between the role of the state and the role of FBOs.

Sichinga says that the Zambian government provides family planning services to married couples and unmarried women while all the 152 health facilities in the CHAZ network provide family planning information to those who need it but not contraceptives to the unmarried.

Health facilities run by Protestant churches promote abstinence and offer all contraceptive services to married couples while Roman Catholic facilities promote only natural family planning methods, she says, adding that abortion is illegal in Zambia except if the life of the mother is threatened.

“No one should impose on one another’s values because there is enough room for all the methods to find their places in the population,” she says.

Catholics for Reproductive Health executive director Bicbic Chua says that abstinence has not addressed many unwanted pregnancies in Catholic majority Philippines.

“Natural family planning is sometimes not effective,” she says.

For instance, she points out that the country has many citizens working abroad who return home for short vacations and who cannot afford to have children.

“Does the wife tell the husband, ‘No darling, I am fertile now, you abstain first?’ But they only have a limited time to be together,” she says, adding that natural contraception also does not work for women who do not have a regular menstrual cycle or when there is sex violation.

Chua says that it is the responsibility of the government to provide a range of family planning methods to the married as well as the unmarried, and also educate religious leaders to network with others.

Family planning is not a stand-alone issue, she says, pointing out that people still need to be educated and provided with life skills so that they adopt positive health-seeking behaviours.

With 87% of the population Muslim, National Population and Family Planning Board of Indonesia chairman Dr Surya Chandra Surapaty says the board has been approaching ulamaks for support and has received it.

“The focus is to decrease the total fertility rate from the current 2.6 per woman to 2.1 by 2025 and increase the quality of life of the population,” he said in a press conference that discussed the Sustainable Development Goals and how investing in family planning is critical in meeting those goals.

During his keynote address at the Bali event, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his government will be taking the global goals to the village level for action and also to promote more long-acting contraception among couples.

Many rural adolescents in Indonesia get married before they are 18; the board tries to work through schools to encourage teens to wait until at least age 21 for women and 25 for men before they get married.

However, the board can only distribute contraceptives to married couples, says Dr Surya.

Indonesia’s former deputy coordinating minister of People’s Welfare Dr Risman Musa says without the support of the ­ulamaks, the introduction of ­sterilisation in family planning would not have been possible.

Risman, the Indonesian chairman of the Asean Masjid Forum, says strategic partnerships with the ulamaks are formed by ­having dialogues.

“Once, the ulamaks in Aceh rejected the family planning efforts the government wanted to introduce. Then we invited them to East Java to have a dialogue with the ulamaks there and, after exchanges on the various schools of thought, they returned saying that family planning is a beautiful programme,” he said at a talk on the strategies and approaches Indonesia has used to involve Muslim religious leaders in family planning.

Risman says that the government also sends ulamaks on study tours in Turkey, Morocco and Iran and makes them consultants on various faith issues.

He says it is also important for health practitioners to hold dialogues with ulamaks.

Another factor that contributes to Indonesia’s successful family planning is the promotion of human responsibility in religious thoughts, says Prof Dr Amin Abdullah, the former rector of the Islamic State University of Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta.

He says they argue that Allah has appointed humans as caliphs on earth and they are to take care of the earth and its environment, keeping a balance in population growth and family planning (Tanzim al-Nasl).