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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Syrian Christian pop. declining

The Milli Gazette Online 

Kochi: Increasing migration and decreasing birth rate are endangering the Syrian Christian community in Kerala. The situation is likely to worsen in the coming decades and the community would soon enter the zero population regime.

While airing this alarming signal, the Syro-Malabar Church has also warned that the birth rate in the Syrian community has fallen below the replacement rate. The birth rate today stands at an all-time low of 1.7 children per couple.

This apart, high emigration and out-migration rate, desertion to non-Syrian Christian denominations or fellowships and inbreeding habits have also put the community at the cross-roads. Quoting former World Bank demographer K.C. Zachariah, the Syro-Malabar mouthpiece - Sathyadeepam - has termed the situation similar to the one faced by Parsis. “The community is facing a Parsi syndrome. Already about 25 percent of Syrian Christians live outside Kerala with a huge population living outside India. Very soon, the majority of them would be living outside and in 50 years time, the demography of Christian population in the state would change drastically,'' the Church warns.

"Christianity in Kerala was once synonymous with Syrian Christians. They stood apart from other Christian communities. But soon Christianity in Kerala would lose its Syrianness,'' pointed out Zachariah. The community has today become one of the smallest among the majority sects like Muslims, Nairs and Ezhavas.

Fifty years ago, 40 percent of the population were children below 15 and hardly four percent were elderly. But this pattern has changed. And 50 years from now, hardly 15 percent would be children and 35 percent would be elderly. This structural change will badly affect the community, the study said.
The percentage proportion of Syrian Christians against total population was 9.7 in 2001. It would fall to eight percent in the next 25 years. Tracing the history of the community, the lead story says that unlike the practice in the early 60s, Syrian Christian girls are married off only in their early 20s.

"They have the highest contraceptive practice rate and probably the highest abortion rate. The lowest maternal and infant mortality is also reported from the community. This transition from the least developed to the most developed is one of the reasons for the fall in their numbers,'' Zachariah said. 

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