Rao, G. Rama; Moulasha, K.; Sureender, S. : Knowledge, attitude and practice of
family planning among fishermen in Tamil Nadu. The Journal of Family Welfare.
September 1993. 39(3).p. 50-54.
Knowledge, attitude and practice of family planning among fishermen in
Dr. G. Rama Rao, Dr. K. Moulasha and Dr. S. Sureender
Indian society consists of immensely varied political, social, ethnic, linguistic,
religious and community groups, which, by and large, reside in villages, where
poverty, misconceived religious notions, social customs, illiteracy, ignorance and
superstitions prevail. The Government of India launched a family welfare
programme in the early 1950's to accelerate the country's economic and social
development, and has formulated an official policy with the aim of reducing the
rate of population growth. The programme was accorded special priority during
the 1960s and 1970s, but has so far only met with marginal success, that is, till
1989-90, only 41.9 percent of the total eligible couples had been effectively
protected  and the target of reducing the birth rate from 40 to 25 per thousand
population by 1991 remained only a pious wish. A possible reason for this is that
a uniform policy is being followed for the entire country with an emphasis on
permanent methods without considering the needs and preferences of the local
people. For example, in Goa and other places a considerable percentage of
women successfully use natural family planning methods, which are not
included in the list of official family planning methods .
As mentioned above, the people of India being multilinguistic, multireligious
and multiethnic, it is necessary to develop special programmes to tackle the
needs of different groups. Hence before launching a special programme, a
thorough understanding of the differentials and determinants of fertility and
mortality is essential. In cent years, the need for such studies has been felt so that
more specific knowledge can be gained about factors determining fertility and
family planning acceptance by particular communities, which can be used for
developing suitable programmes for them. Since very little is known about the
demographic condition, fertility and family planning behaviour of' the fisherman
community in India in general and Tamil Nadu in particular [3-6], an attempt
has been made to study family planning behaviour among this community.
Lifestyle of fishermen in Tamil Nadu
The fishermen of Tamil Nadu are locally known as 'pattanavars' (literally, a
dweller a town or pattanam, which word occurs in the names of various towns
on the seacoast such as Nagappattanam or Chennapattanam), and are popularly
called `Karaiyans' or seashore people. This community continues to possess the
basic characteristics of a folk society despite the urban environment around it,
and remains homogeneous in social, economic and cultural matters, and the
caste panchayat exercises judicial and social control over its member . The
major portion of the life of these fishermen is spent at sea; they have little time
for taking an active part in familial issues, much less to speak about their
interaction, either culturally or socially, with other communities. Consequently,
women assume assume a vital place with regard to the upbringing of the
children and in the household. Only the male members go fishing while the
women folk are involved in domestic work and also participate in offshore
activities, and in selling fish.
Thanjavur district is conspicious among all the eight coastal districts of Tamil
Nadu in its produce of marine fish which accounts for about 30 percent of the
total marine catch of the state. Trenquebar, a taluk in Thanjavur district, was
selected as the study area based on information from the Thrangampady
Pattanavar Panchayat Office that this taluk has played a significant role in
marine fishing in the district.
According to the records of the Panchayat Office, there were 803 fishermen's
households in the study area, with 560 eligible couples. As a first step, eligible
couples (wife aged 15-49 years) were enumerated (558) and one-third (185) of
them were selected by systematic sampling. With the help of a well-structured
questionnaire, information relating to knowledge, attitude and practice of
contraceptive methods was collected from the wives.
Results and Discussion
The paragraphs, which follow, describe the knowledge, attitude and practice of
family planning among the fishermen as also the number of children ever born.
Knowledge about family planning methods
Table 1 presents a distribution of the respondents by their knowledge of
contraception. It indicates that family planning knowledge was widespread, and
that all the respondents were aware of at least one method of contraception.
Among the various methods, female sterilisation was most well known by 93.5
percent of respondents, and by another 2.7 percent following probing. The next
best known method was male sterilisation, reported by 78.4 percent of the
respondents though many more reported knowledge (20 percent) on probing.
Among the temporary methods, the oral pill ranked first (56.5 percent), IUD (39
percent) next, followed by the condom (30.5 percent). The knowledge of these
methods increased to 87.0, 69.8 and 67.9 percent respectively after probing.
Table 1 : Percentage distribution of respondents by knowledge of family
Note: The total sample size varies among the methods due to non-response for
(N) = Total respondents
Abstinence was the most commonly known natural method in the study area,
and was in fact, the best-known method among both natural/conventional and
modern methods. Among the respondents, 88 percent knew about this method,
and the level of knowledge increased to 98 percent after probing. Reported
knowledge of the rhythm method, on the other hand, was only 49 percent, even
The findings presented in Table 1 also suggest that probing played a significant
role in determining the actual level of knowledge, in general for all methods, and
particularly for the three temporary methods (condom, IUD and pill) and
especially for the rhythm method. The low level of knowledge reported by the
respondents prior to probing and the subsequent increase following probing
may be due to shyness of the fisherwomen to respond to questions about
contraceptives, the fact they had only heard about the method but did not know
much about it, and problems of understanding the concept of family planning
Attitude to family planning and reasons for favour/disfavour
The attitude of the respondents to family planning indicated that the majority (80
percent) were in favourable of family planning. Among the remaining
respondents, 16.8 percent expressed disapproval and 3.2 percent claimed to have
no idea about family planning (Table 2).
Table 2 :Percentage distribution of respondents by reasons for favourable
/unfavourable attitude to family planning
It helps to maintain the standard of living
It makes the family small and happy
It limits the family and reduces expenditure the
It protects mother's and child's health
Do not favour FP:
Operation harmful to health
It is against religion/God
Children are God's gift
Fear of death of living children
he figure in brackets represent the number of respondents.
The prominent reasons stated by respondents who held favourable attitudes to
family planning were by and large economic (Table 3), the most important being
"to maintain the standard of living" (31.7 percent). Apart from this, health
reasons such as "mother and child health are protected" were given by about 18
percent of the respondents.
Table 3 : Percentage distribution of respondents by family planning practice
User and method
Method ever used
The figures in brackets represent the number of respondents.
The chief reasons given by respondents who disapproved of family planning
were that "the operation makes people weak and it is harmful to their health"
(45.2 percent). That family planning is against religion/God and "children are
God's gift" was expressed by an equal number (45.1 percent), and fear of child
loss was the least mentioned reason (by about 10 percent). The findings clearly
indicate that adoption of family planning has been hampered on account of the
fear of side effects, and hence appropriate measures are called for to remove the
existing fears and doubts about the use of the people various methods among the
Family planning practice
The findings reveal that almost two-fifths (378 percent) of the respondents had
ever used some type of contraception during their married life. Among the
methods, sterilisation was the most accepted method. Nearly a fifth (19 percent)
of all the respondents and 52 percent of all ever users reported to have adopted
sterilisation (Table 3). It may be noted that though vasectomy well known, not a
single vasectomy had been performed in the study area. This clearly indicates
that only women were active in the adoption of permanent methods. Next to
tubectomy, abstinence was the most popular method and around 42 percent of
the ever users reported to have practised it. Such a high percentage of couple
practising natural methods is not found among other societies. At the same time,
one need not doubt the finding as a high percentage of the respondents not only
reported knowledge of abstinence but also approved of it. Only 6.2 percent of the
ever users had accepted temporary methods like the IUD and or l pills.
The above findings reveal that among the respondents who had accepted family
planning, tubectomy ranked first; there was no even a single case of male
sterilisation. The reason for this is probably the type of occupation that the men
folk are engaged in-since fishing is hard work the fishermen do not want to take
any risk which would affect their livelihood by accepting vasectomy, which they
fear will affect their health and strength.
Family planning and children ever born
The average number of children ever born to the respondents in the study area
was 3.99. It was observed that over half (55 percent) of the respondents had
accepted some form of family planning method (abstinence, sterilisation) only
after the age of 35. This clearly indicates that the idea of planning the family
came at a very late stage of their life, or after having completed the desired
family size. The average number of children ever born for those currently
practising abstinence was 5.4, which clearly supports the above view that the
effect of this method on unwanted pregnancy is minimal.
The study reveals good knowledge and favourable attitudes (80 percent) towards
family planning among the fishermen community of coastal Tamil Nadu.
However, only 37.8 percent were found to have accepted some form of family
planning, among which sterilisation and abstinence were most widely practised.
Among the sterilisation acceptors, all were female. In fact, not a single vasectomy
case had been performed in the study area, the major reason being the fear that it
would affect their health and consequently their day-to-day activity of fishing
which is their only source of income.
The study reveals that the knowledge of permanent methods and abstinence
among the respondents was more than that of temporary methods. Therefore,
intensive efforts should be made to popularise temporary methods and birth
spacing. For this, suitable special orientation training camps should be organised
to remove the misconceptions about the use of various family planning methods.
Additionally, the IEC programme should be further strengthened so as to
motivate the people to adopt family planning methods at an early stage of their
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