Kottayam: A Catholic church diocese under the Syro-Malabar church in central Kerala announced a welfare scheme on Monday for families having five or more children, a move seen as encouraging the community to boost its numbers.
The initiative, launched by the Family Apostolate under the Pala diocese of the church, has decided to offer a monthly financial assistance of Rs 1,500 to the couples who got married after 2000 and have five or more children.
"It was announced as part of the 'Year of the Family' celebrations by the church. This initiative is to provide assistance to large families especially in the post COVID-19 scenario. We will start receiving applications soon and most probably, we will be able to hand out assistance from August," Fr Joseph Kuttiankal, who heads the Family Apostolate under the church, told PTI.
The scheme was announced at an online meeting by Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt as part of the 'Year of the Family' celebrations of the church.
When asked whether this move was part of a pastoral letter issued by the Changanacherry Archdiocese in 2019 suggesting that the share of the Christian population in Kerala has dwindled over the years, Fr Kuttiankal said that issue was a "reality".
"It's a reality that the population of the Christian community is going down. Our growth rate is less. That is also a reason but the immediate reason is to provide assistance to the large families which are finding it difficult to make both ends meet due to the pandemic," he said.
"During the formation of Kerala, Christians were the second largest community in the state. But now, the community is only 18.38 per cent of the state's total population. In recent years, the birth rate in the Christian community has decreased to 14 per cent,” read the letter, issued by the Archbishop Mar Joseph Perumthottam in 2019.
Fr. Kuttiankal said the scheme was announced for couples who got married after 2000 because "the elder children of couples who started a family before that year must have completed their education and begun contributing to their respective families".
The church has also announced free delivery care at a hospital run by it to the women who are delivering their fourth children and also that the children who are born as the fourth or subsequently in a family will be given scholarships to study at an engineering college run by the church.
Back in 2011, proposals in the draft Kerala Women's Code Bill, by the Kerala government to penalise families violating the two-child norm had prompted Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders to rise collectively in protest against it. PTI