KOTTAYAM: Financial assistance of Rs 1,500 per month for families with five or more children, scholarships for engineering studies and free medical aid for pregnancy-related needs from the fourth child. These are the offers made by the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Pala to the laity to encourage bigger families when the entire world has been struggling to control population growth. The reason: concerns about the community's dwindling numbers.
With calls for early marriages, larger families and avoiding contraceptive measures failing to yield much results, the Syro-Malabar Church has now launched a campaign on social media to promote families with more children by community members as part of 'Year of the Family' celebrations called by Pope Francis. The initiative has been taken up jointly by the Eparchy of Pala and its institutions like Family Apostolate, Mar Sleeva Medicity in Pala and St Joseph's College of Engineering and Technology, Pala.
As per messages circulating on social media, the Family Apostolate under Pala diocese will provide Rs 1,500 to couples who have got married after 2000 and have five or more children, while St Joseph's Engineering College will provide education scholarships for the fourth child and younger siblings in a family. The medical expenses during pregnancy will be taken care of by Mar Sleeva Medicity from the birth of the fourth child.
"Often, families stop having children after the second or third child is born because of the increasing expenses involved in raising them. It is in such a context that we decided to provide a minimum financial assistance and other benefits to families. Moreover, we also took into account the call for a larger family concept of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council. The Church has been promoting more children in families for long. We have decided to take it seriously against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic and the Year of the Family celebrations," said Fr Joseph Kuttiankal, director of the Family Apostolate.
Meanwhile, Fr Kuttiankal said the decision was taken not on the basis of any survey on birth and fertility rates among the laity. "Having an organised system in the eparchy -- right from the bishops to vicars of parishes -- it is easy for us to understand the situation of families in the Church," he added.
Interestingly, the Church's decision has come at a time when states like Uttar Pradesh have proposed the Population Control Act to debar families having more than two children from enjoying the benefits of government schemes and limiting ration card units to four in a family. The North Indian state has also announced special incentives for parents with one child.
Concerned over a sharp fall in the birth rate in Christian families, KCBC had in 2008 initiated the concept of 'larger families' with three or more children. While the bishop of Thamarassery diocese had issued a pastoral letter in 2017, exhorting believers to ensure that their boys get married before the age of 25 and girls before they turn 23, the Idukki bishop had issued a pastoral letter advising Church members to give up the use of contraceptives and other birth control measures.