Why Kenyan couples favour two children


46 percent of Kenyan women aged 15 to 49 have undergone a surgical procedure to cease childbearing. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

From economic hardship and infertility issues to putting more focus on education and career and just not having an interest in having many children, the average Kenyan household size is drastically dropping, painting a worrying state of the future generation.

Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS 2022) shows that the average number of children a Kenyan woman is bearing has dropped from 6.7 in 1989 to 3.4 in 2022, attributed to the greater use of modern contraceptives.

The numbers are expected to reduce further as more women, especially the millennials postpone childbearing.

According to the survey, 46 percent of Kenyan women aged 15 to 49 have undergone a surgical procedure to cease childbearing, leading to a declining birth rate.

As a result, most families are now considering having just two children, citing different reasons.

Heavy responsibility

Maurine Kengei, a senior officer in the government, says she never understood why people only had two children until she had one. She dreamt of having tens of children as she grew up.

“I always dreamt of a house full of children. I didn’t understand the realities of motherhood at all. I didn’t know what it felt like to have morning sickness. I didn’t know what it felt like to be up all night for several weeks. I didn’t know the pain of hovering over a sick child, leave alone the reality of continually pondering a child’s future and formation. I was confident and ignorant. Then, I had my firstborn,” says Ms Kengei.

"When I had my son, I fell desperately in love. Like most first-time mothers, I was meticulous about everything. I made sure I taught him baby sign language, made all his food despite having a house help, and read every parenting book to make sure that I wasn’t messing him up for life."

External push

Mrs Kengei has been married to a university deputy vice chancellor for 17 years now, and says if not for her husband insisting on having another child, she would have stopped at baby number one.

Five years later, she gave birth to a baby girl. And then called it quits.

“Looking back, I was overwhelmed. You see when a woman gets married and has children, the life she once knew completely changes. Her life is not her own anymore. She is now responsible for an entire human being. I remember thinking when he was sick for the first time, “If I don’t take him to the doctor, nobody will.”

You have to make serious decisions about things like schooling options, parenting techniques, sleeping troubles, temper tantrums, eating among other baby issues,” says 47-year-old Mrs Kengei.

The situation is not so different from that of Veronica Mutai, a managing director at a private law firm. Mrs Mutai also has two children. However, that was her plan since she was an adolescent.

Childhood plans

“Some say it is for other reasons such as financial, challenging pregnancies, and even scary pregnancies. Although, when you get into deep conversation with a woman, you see the longing for more children,” says Mrs Mutai.

“I had my first child whom I gave all my attention to. I then had another. When the last born was five years, all the ‘troubles’ I faced convinced me I had made the right choice by not having more than two children. I have two boys who I refer to as my soldiers,” adds the 38-year-old.

Men are not left out in this numbers ‘game’. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family indicates that over one-third of American men have no children, showing an increasing disinterest in fatherhood, prompting the question of why?

GenZ men are increasingly saying they want no children.

Fun and more fun

When he met his girlfriend at a friend’s wedding, Mark Ogallo was direct to the point; he never wanted to have children.

“I am a fifth born in a family of nine. It was never a walk in the park. I had just graduated from university when my parents passed away. Only one of my elder siblings had succeeded but had a family to look after. As the saying goes blood is thicker… I had no choice but to take responsibility and look after my younger siblings like they were my children. To cut a long story short, maturing was never fun. When I finally got attracted to women, having children never crossed my mind. After all, I already had four,” says the engineer.

All Mr Ogallo wanted was to get married and have fun and more fun. Money was never a problem.

He recalls having seven breakups until he finally settled down at the age of 43. “I cannot explain what happened but today I am a father of two; a boy and a girl,” he says.

“I remember I would go everywhere accompanied by an army of people to help with my two little boys. I admired mothers of large families and felt so inadequate next to them. I would be at a children’s park with my two children and three of my sisters just to help hold them tight not to escape. At church, we would bring a ‘buffet’ so that not a moment would go by that they weren’t eating something,” says Madeline Martins.

Ms Martins separated from her husband and that is how she closed her childbearing chapter.

Not because of finances, (she works in a bank) but because the trauma she went through with the father of her children was too much for her that therapy did little.

Starting a family used to be what people did to embark on adulthood; now many say they want to wait.

Eric Musau, executive director for research at Standard Investment Bank says that more educated and affluent couples tend to have fewer children, attributed to changes in attitudes toward family, work, and lower marriage rates.

“As societies become wealthier, the fertility rate falls. South Korea for example has a fertility rate of less than 0.8 percent," says Mr Musau.

He adds that the demographic dividend talked about in developing countries is related to an increase in workers and consumers, but governments have to create the right environment to provide employment, or else the high birth rates become a curse.

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