26th July – Having the last word on ‘population control’

On July 11, World Population Day, a Union Minister expressed alarm, in a Tweet, over what he called the “population explosion” in the country, wanting all political parties to enact population control laws and annulling the voting rights of those having more than two children.

population control

However, the recently launched Economic Survey notes that India is set to witness a “sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades”. The fact is that by the 2030s, some States will start transitioning to an aging society as part of a well-studied process of “demographic transition” which sees nations slowly move toward a stable population as fertility rates fall with an improvement in social and economic development indices over time.

Background –

A far-sighted and forward-looking National Population Policy (NPP) was introduced in 2000 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The essence of the policy was the government’s commitment to “voluntary and informed choice and consent of citizens while availing of reproductive health care services” along with a “target free approach in administering family planning services”.

Dangerous imagery

  • The demand for state controls on the number of children a couple can have is not a new one. What is suggested is the ugliest kind of discrimination, worse than physical attacks or social prejudice because it breaks the poor and the weak bit by bit, and in a very insidious way.
  • The fig leaf of population control allows for the outrageous argument to be made that a family will be virtually ostracised and a citizen will be denied his or her basic rights if he or she is born as the third child.

Converting it into an opportunity –

About a year ago, the then Health Minister articulated the “lifecycle framework” which looks to the health and nutrition needs of mother and child not merely during pregnancy and childbirth but “right from the time of conception till the child grows… carrying on till the adolescent stage and further”. This argument is not about denying services but about offering choices and a range of services to mother and child on the clear understanding that the demographic dividend can work to support growth and drive opportunity for ordinary people only when the population is healthy.

Crucial connections

  • Family health, child survival and the number of children a woman has are closely tied to the levels of health and education of the parents, and in particular the woman; so the poorer the couple, the more the children they tend to have.
  • The poor tend to have more children because child survival is low, son preference remains high, children lend a helping hand in economic activity for poorer households and so support the economic as well as emotional needs of the family.
  • As the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) notes, women in the lowest wealth quintile have an average of 1.6 more children than women in the highest wealth quintile, translating to a total fertility rate of 3.2 children versus 1.5 children moving from the wealthiest to the poorest.
  • Similarly, the number of children per woman declines with a woman’s level of schooling. Women with no schooling have an average of 3.1 children, compared with 1.7 children for women with 12 or more years of schooling. As the latest Economic Survey points out, States with high population growth are also the ones with the lowest per capita availability of hospital beds.

The way forward – Looking at population ‘control’ –

  • Demographers are careful not to use the word “population control” or “excess population”. The NPP 2000 uses the world “control” just thrice: in references to the National AIDS Control Organisation; to prevent and control communicable diseases, and control of childhood diarrhea. This is the spirit in which India has looked at population so that it truly becomes a thriving resource; the lifeblood of a growing economy.
  • Today, as many as 23 States and Union Territories, including all the States in the south region, already have fertility below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. So, support rather than control works.

SourceThe Hindu

Also read: 25th July – Faltering steps in the anti-AIDS march