A Catholic church diocese under the Syro-Malabar church in central Kerala has announced a welfare scheme for families with five or more children - a move being seen as encouraging the community to boost its population.
Under an initiative, launched by the Family Apostolate under the Pala diocese of the church, couples who married after 2000 and have five or more children will be offered monthly financial assistance of Rs 1,500.
"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 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 news agency PTI.
Asked whether the move is part of a pastoral letter issued by the Changanacherry Archdiocese in 2019 suggesting that 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 who 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% of the state's total population. In recent years, the birth rate in the Christian community has decreased to 14%," read the letter, issued by 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 women giving birth to their fourth child and also that the children, born fourth or subsequently, will be given scholarships to study at an engineering college run by the church.
In 2011, proposals in the draft Kerala Women's Code Bill to penalise families in the state violating the two-child norm had prompted Hindu, Christian, and Muslim leaders to rise collectively in protest against it.