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UP govt's 'coercive measures' on number of children to worsen sex ratio against girls

By Shriya Bajaj, Sandeep Pandey*

Recently population control bill has been in the light in India. Two states Assam and Uttar Pradesh have proposed Population Stabilization Bill. Also, many other states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Odisha are following two-child norm for the local body elections.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day speech in 2019, talked about the population explosion. He highlighted in his speech that population explosion in the country will create problems in the coming year and those who have small families are contributing to the development of the country and it is a form of patriotism.
The governments which are proposing population bills to their states are giving the justification given by Malthusian, of exponential population growth rate and arithmetic food production growth, but aren’t looking to the justification of Julian Simon who talked about ultimate resources. Also, Amartya Sen, one of the great Indian economists, talked about population well-being and stated that cooperation can provide something that coercion can’t provide.
The Uttar Pradesh government has talked about certain measures through this law. If you have one or two children you are eligible to certain benefits in terms of increment in job promotions, monetary benefits, health coverage benefits and many more perks. But if you have more than two children, the penalties are there like debarring people from government jobs, limiting their public distribution ration cards to four people.
Also, debarring them from local level elections which is being followed by other states too. The government is saying that these targets will stabilize the population of UP and will make them reach the sustainable development goals and even allow them to use an equitable distribution of resources, justifying bringing the population control bill.
India has seen population growth in the past; the population of India exploded between 1930 to 1980. The population decadal growth rose from 11% in the 1931 census to around 25% in the 1981 census. Since 1981 the population growth has seen declining trends, and in the 2011 census, India had a 17.1% decadal growth rate.
The UP trend has been a little different in terms of population growth rate it has started showing a declining trend in the last decade which is a positive sign towards population stabilization. A Lancet study projected that India’s population is going to peak around 2048 to 160 crore and thereafter it will see a decline of 32% and reach around 109 crores around 2100.
The Total Fertility Rate at the national level is 2.2 births per woman according to NFHS- 4, 2015-16 (NFHS, 2015-16); Also the TFR is projected to decline to 1.24 by 2020. It is evident that just like India, the Indian states will also encounter a decline in the total fertility rate several states have already a TFR lower than the national average. Uttar Pradesh too has seen a decline in TFR from 4.8 children per woman in 1992 to 2.7 children per woman in 2016. This is in spite of a fall in Child Mortality Rate from 83 in 2000 to 43 in 2016.
The present contraceptive use of any method for India is 53.5%. Studies suggest that the sex composition of children is associated with contraceptive use in India. Couples with four or more children are more likely to use modern contraceptives when they have at least one son and one daughter and are very less likely to use contraceptives when they have all daughters and no sons than couples who have no daughters.
Also, for states like UP, the contraceptive uses of any method have been below the national average and the unmet needs are quite high i.e. around 18%. In such cases, the state should focus on providing a basket of choices to the family.
We also see that there is a reduction in TFR for both the national level and UP with the years of schooling. Also, states like Kerala and Punjab with a TFR of 1.6 which is below replacement level indicate the same. Woman with no schooling has a high TFR of 3.07 for India and 3.5 for UP and as the level has raised TFR has decreased up to 1.71 for India and 1.9 for UP for more than 12 more years of schooling. Studies have also indicated the same in the case of UP. Higher fertility was concentrated in districts with a low level of woman schooling, predominantly in the north-central UP.
In India the missing female at births has increased from 35 lakhs in 1987-96 to 55 lakhs in 2007-16. It indicates that brining any such population bill will make the case more worse for the states as well as the country where sex-selective abortion is still practiced. Whereas there has been an overall improvement in Sex Ratio from 898 women per 1000 men in 2001 to 912 in 2011, the Child Sex Ratio (0-6 years) has seen a fall from 916 to 902 in the same period in UP.
This should be a cause of concern as any coercive measure on number of children is likely to worsen this ratio against girls. Given UP's large population and geography, family planning and fertility should be targeted and accounted with the different social factors which are affecting them. Bringing educational reforms and giving choices for family planning would work more appropriately at the state level. This would lead to an overall improvement in the fertility outcome of the state as well at the National level.
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*Shirya Bajaj is MPhil in Population Studies from International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, and Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India). Click here for references 

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