Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When babies are not welcome

AS early as January, merchants began rolling out the Cupids and chocolates, the froth-and-tease that precedes the gift-giving hard sell that’s become Valentine’s Day in this country.

In El Salvador, the choices are stark: stagnant water and a government appeal not to have children for the next two years.

Last Jan. 27, the International New York Times (INYT) reported how Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has “rattled” El Salvador and other countries in the region into scrambling for measures to control the spread of the disease that leaves infected infants with microcephaly, a rare condition marked by an abnormally small head and brain damage.

Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same carrier of dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, reported the INYT. The insects thrive in the standing water pooling amidst the trash piling in congested cities.

What hampers the communities and authorities from cleaning up and dispatching the mosquitoes is another Salvadorean epidemic: gang violence. The INYT refers to El Salvador as the “Western Hemisphere’s most violent country.”

In a country where mosquitoes and gangs compete for dominance, one would think having babies would be the last thing on people’s minds, even with Feb. 14 approaching.

Yet, the government’s call for a two-year moratorium on babies, with the implied strategy of contraception, is an issue that is “complicated” to raise in this “conservative, religious” country, reported the INYT.

While the El Salvador archbishop fell sick and could not say Sunday mass immediately after the public appeal for a birth moratorium and the nation’s bishops had yet to meet to discuss how to react to the government’s “new theme,” Salvadorean women interviewed by the INYT said postponing the babies was not a problem for the top three reasons: gang violence, unemployment, and Zika.

We are better off than El Salvador: violence that’s much worse in the media reports than in reality, so-so employment, and no Zika.

It is understandable why, with Feb. 14 approaching, we are not preoccupied with clearing standing water, fumigating the neighborhood, and reciting a loop of Hail Mary’s from fear and desperation for a child that’s still in the womb.

It explains why health workers distributing condoms outside motels on Feb. 14 invite derision. It’s not that they don’t want unwanted babies; the government only works to please condom manufacturers, never mind if they promote sinfulness and break up marriages.

Two worlds: one that does not welcome babies, another that does.

However, if one took away the particulars of place and time, what can the women of El Salvador ask their Filipina sisters: prior to conception, what kind of world do you dream of bringing a child into?

A world where a young mother without a husband, an education or even a supportive family can bring to full term a child, no more certain of its place than its mother.

A world where one can believe one’s child has a fair chance at a better life than its parents.

A world that loves a child and its becoming.

Though we may be in far greater danger from the arrows of Cupid than from the proboscis of the Zika-carrier mosquito, we should ask ourselves like the women of El Salvador: into what world do we bring a child?

(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 31, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

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