Kottayam: The Syro Malabar Church Pala diocese has announced sops for all families in their diocese if they have five or more children and this would be applicable to couples who have been married after 2000.
This was announced by the Pala bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt while taking part in an online meeting organised by him.
The move is seen as a step towards encouraging their community to boost its numbers in the state.
The initiative is launched by the Family Apostolate under the Pala diocese of the Syro-Malabar church. Posters have come out which explain the details.
Among the sops that have been offered in the poster, which reads: "Year of the Family, Live the joy of God's love includes a monthly scholarship of Rs 1500, starting from the fourth child and to all future kids of a family, will be given education with scholarship at the church-run St Joseph's College of Engineering and Technology, besides free medical facility for every child after the fourth will be offered at the church-run hospital".
When eyebrows were raised on this, the bishop accepted that he had said this, and added that he stands by what he has said.
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, said.
Asked whether the 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 the 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.
Father 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 who are delivering their fourth children.
Also 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.
(With inputs from PTI and IANS)