World Population Day: call to end India's target-based approach to family planning

Two-child norm is endangering women's lives and skewing sex-ratio, say activists

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Wednesday 11 July 2012

Brushing aside fears of population explosion in India, civil society groups working in the area of family planning stressed that India must revise its family planning programme. They were speaking at a media briefing in New Delhi on the eve of the World Population Day that falls on July 11. They also said that attaching the condition of two-child norm for panchayat elections should end as it is working against women in some states. The civil society groups had public consultations in 13 states and have made certain recommendations to the Union health ministry prior to the London summit on family planning on Wednesday (see box).

Recommendation to remove targets for female sterilisation
Civil society groups had public consultations in 13 states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Some of the recommendations they have submitted to the Union health ministry are as follows:
  • Information on reproductive and sexual health and rights should be given to all women, men and young people
  • Revise national population policy 2000 and shift its focus from demographic to individual rights-based policy
  • Ensure that contraceptives and spacing methods are widely available to couples even outside marriage without any stigma Remove the pressure of targets for female sterilization
“In states like Rajasthan, a man or a woman can’t contest panchayat elections if he or she has more than two children. Sometimes, women are forced to abort in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy by their families; they are at times abandoned by their husbands and in many cases more than two children are given away,” says Rita Sarin, director of The Hunger Project.

The activists expressed concern that the two-child norm is doing little to stabilise population. Instead, it is posing a risk to women’s reproductive rights and has had an adverse impact on the sex-ratio of the country.

One-fourth of India’s 1.2 billion population is in its reproductive age. Census data shows that fewer children are born to a couple but more couples are having children. “Our population growth is halting now,” says Sona Sharma, joint director, Population Foundation of India, a Delhi-based non-profit. India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) or the number of children a woman bears in her reproductive life has decreased to 2.6 in 2011 from 3.1 in 1992.

Despite this evidence, states are zealously following a target-based approach to reduce the number of children born. “The targets in reducing population have made a come back in the past two to three years and the focus is on female sterilisation. The government is performing these operations on poor women without informing them about other options of contraception and without proper facilities at hospitals, thus, endangering their lives,” said A R Nanda, former secretary in the Union health ministry's department of family welfare. Nanda pioneered the National Population Policy that put an end to coercive methods of family planning and encouraged only voluntary sterilisations.

Out of the total share of contraception use in India, female sterilization is the highest at 37.3 per cent. Male sterilization rate is only one per cent and condom use is at 5.2 per cent, according to the National Family Health Survey of 2005-2006.

The activists fear that after the London summit on family planning on July 11 by the UK government’s Department For International Development (DFID), there will be pressure on India to further bring down its population. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with the UK government to host the summit where expanding the use of contraception and meeting the unmet need of contraception in the developing countries will be discussed.

India is a major player at the conference and is represented by Anuradha Gupta, joint secretary for the National Rural Health Mission. In her remarks, she said family planning should be country-led to ensure cultural acceptance and to meet specific social needs.

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