Saturday, April 9, 2016

My somewhat Marxist Critique of the Jamaican National Family Planning Board

After going to university in my undergraduate years to find that my political science professors and lecturers were retreating from Marxist political thought, I never imagined that I would be returning to that critical orientation towards the Jamaican neoliberal status quo. But I guess this happened gradually as I studied in Canada and hung out with a faculty that is well known for a Leftist leaning. The interesting thing though, is that my recent foray into challenging the status quo has been made compatible with my spiritual beliefs. In sixth form and even my early university days, I had the challenge of reconciling my respect for Marxism with the fact that Communism stifled religious freedoms and the fact that Marx had little respect for the "opium of the people".

In this post particularly, I feel led to challenge the hegemonic narrative told about "family planning" and the official Jamaican state agency that is powered to tell this narrative and shape the Jamaican population in accepting the narrative of "family planning" or what I would rather name "family control".

As a Judeo-Christian, I respect traditional family institutions deeply. I consider myself a family man and see the family as the basic unit of society and all communities. I also welcome the idea of state institutions to support strong families while recognizing some diversity to the families that exist in contemporary society (some of which are a direct result of economic changes and how society has changed traditional arrangements to accommodate the labour force requirements of the new economy).

Recently, I watched a advertisement from the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) that got me thinking of how the "family control" narrative is serving to support the economic arrangement of neoliberal and capitalist economy. The NFPB in its advertisement, during a Jamaica Information Service broadcast, showed a cartoon of a pregnant lady surrounded by children with an audio clip about eradicating poverty by planning your family. For this, I must indicate that I am not aware of any empirical studies that suggest that the cause of poverty is directly related to the number of members in your family. In fact, a 2014 PoliticoFact check indicated that the claim that having children leads to poverty was false as there are many confounding factors.

That said, while there might be a correlation between the number of children one has and one's wealth (or poverty), there is little empirical evidence of direct causation. In addition, the very idea that one must sacrifice family size in order to acquire wealth is a hegemonic idea that supports the neoliberal economic regime and the values espoused by the capitalist class. To understand this, when we look at traditional and pre-capitalist societies and economies, the number of children one had and the size of the family were of importance to survival. When humans used to live in hunting-gathering societies or agrarian economies, the number of children and the extended family were of importance as a labour force and for community security/policing.

Today, the dominant narrative is that we must focus on individual careers and in getting the "good" life of the ownership of materials goods and the accumulation of wealth. To do this, the emphasis is on regulating the size of your family and controlling the number of offspring, so that you can have enough time to work and contribute to the accumulation of wealth and serve the need of the economic elite and ruling class.

Getting back to the NFPB, I see the institution as problematic because it primarily focuses on reproductive decisions. When I browse the website ( and even its ads about its services, the institution primarily focuses on the supporting reproductive decisions of Jamaicans (and in particular on contraception services). There is no focus on equipping parents with parenting skills or helping Jamaicans understand the various types of families and how to cope. I see no services that offer support in martial counselling and in making marital commitments. No services on counselling parents with marital problems or divorcees that are adjusting to conjugal dissolution. No services that offer counselling about coping as a single parent, or as a caregiver of aging parents or other problems of transitioning from a single individual into either a nuclear or extended family. The focus is only on reproductive control, despite the rhetoric in the ad about the NFPB being there to support stable Jamaican families.

So, let me now give some recommendations and not just end with critique:

  • Either change the name of NFPB to reflect what it truly is (Jamaican Population Control Board) OR expand its mandate to truly support the viability and stability of the Jamaican family (or various types of families). 
  • Expand the vision from just the focus on sexual reproduction. The current vision reads "All Jamaicans achieving optimal sexual health in an environment where their sexual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled." Is the vision really about stable Jamaican families OR to support Jamaicans and their sexual choices, preferences and appetites? As such, the current vision and the name of the institution are not aligned.
  •  Advocate for policies and legislation that support and value Jamaicans caring for children and aged parents, as well as having healthy sex and controlling the timing of births. 


Greenberg, J. (2014, Aug. 12). "Is having a kid a leading trigger for poverty?"
Retrieved from

Jamaica National Family Planning Board (2016). "Vision & Mission" Jamaica National Family Planning Board. Retrieved from


Jess said...

I agree with you somewhat. I think that an industrialized society forces parents to limit their family size but it is simply a matter of practicality. One income cannot pay the mortgage,car loan, utilities, clothing and food because the cost of living is high so both parents have to work. With both parents working there is less time to end with six children and some ofthe parenting task is delegated to a babysitter. When the parents do have time, in the evenings and on weekend it is easier to spend it with a few children than many . In an agrarian society the cost of living is low and the more children you have the more hands you have on deck to work the farm. However, an industrial society relies on telecommunication, and large industries that required technical, skilled and professional labourforce and as the demands of society changes the family evolves to meet that demand.

Small families and controlling family size is not to be viewed as a bad thing at all. Having three children instead of six means that a parent should (in theory) be able to spend more time with each child and invest in their lives. Investing in each child will then produce more stable adults who are fit to proliferate the labourforce.

FIONA said...

Countries which historically the governments have placed an emphasis on work and career are now worrying what to do because their population is declining. In some of these countries there are various incentives to encourage people to have children. So of a fact, smaller families replicated does not mean progress for any country even though it may seem that way in the short term.