The one-child policy in Egypt is under attack by protesters in the rural village of Safaa, in Egypt’s Nile Delta. They are living proof that the three-child rule doesn’t always guarantee families two mouths to feed.
Muhammed, 13, and his 13-year-old brother Hassan are the only ones left in their family of four. “I don’t understand what they did to my parents,” said Muhammed. “Of course, it’s our fault. We should have had more children.”
He was not born before the 2012-2013 Egyptian rule limiting families to one child, but Hassan was born before the 1954-1956 limitation. Before then, the majority of Egyptian women who got married gave birth to multiple children. Today’s policy is aimed at forcing the country’s overpopulation to shrink. Population experts estimate Egypt’s current population stands at 96 million, up from 35 million in the 1950s.
The only child limit is also a mark of gender discrimination that has been part of Egyptian culture for decades. Egyptian women have the right to get divorced but, until 1973, they were prohibited from using a male partner’s male child. A majority of Egyptians believe equality among the sexes requires that men and women have different family sizes.
But while the world looks to Egypt as a model for tackling the daunting problem of overpopulation, some in the country believe a significant body of scientific data contradicts that claim.
On the back of overwhelming evidence — including a 1990 United Nations report that describes Egypt’s fertility rate as “unacceptable” — researchers have long been skeptical of the Egyptian prediction that its population will decline to 80 million by 2060. Many believe that an underemployed, poorly educated, rural population has failed to control its own births, enabling some 20 million illegitimately born people to populate the country.
“How can you impose a policy if not sustainable?” said Yves Zeidan, the head of the Center for the Observatory on Population and Development, which argued on video that there is no such thing as an “unfair” child policy. “We would have to destroy and we will destroy Egypt’s economy if we proceed with this policy.”
Some activists have also been unhappy about the one-child policy. “This method is extremely discriminatory against women,” said Itatir Mahmud, a women’s rights activist. “In the popular belief, 70 percent of women in this country give birth to more than one child. I don’t know what reason we need to deny our women freedom and bring them children.”
Women don’t necessarily produce more than one child as a matter of free will. In some cases, however, birth control is illegally purchased in order to increase family size. The consequences of enforced birth control, especially when accompanied by strict rules of residency and other considerations, can be disastrous for residents of Egypt’s rural areas.
On Sunday, only a few people in the Safaa village could be seen on Safaa’s main street. But when the phone rang, the speaker could be heard pleading with every female in the village to produce a daughter. “Everyone has a daughter, but everyone does not have a son,” she yelled. “Allah will take care of us all.”
Men were seen looking down at their phones while others appeared to be busy working in front of their homes. The female voice stretched toward Amr and Raouf Mostafa, a farmer and his employee. “Please have a daughter,” she pleaded. “Our two are already old.” They ran toward her and offered their hands to take her away.
One woman shook her head, saying that she has no children.
Like a generation before her, Amr and Raouf have no intention of having more children. One pair of five-year-old twins share a room, but their parents say they have no intention of having a third child. The children’s mother, Eishah, sits at the front of the house, wearing a checked headscarf and makeup, while her sister Rajaa holds the children in her lap.
For Eishah, the issue of a large family is a matter of culture and tradition. “Our parents were big,” she said. “We have lots of cousins. We did not grow up with more siblings. If we go to the government to increase the child limit, it is because of the complications and complications of having more children.”