Overpopulation has often proven to be a hindrance in our nation’s economic planning and development, calling, time and again, the need for population control norms. On May 31, 2022, Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel revealed that the government will soon be launching Population Control Laws in India. This announcement makes us question the need for any such strict laws which restrict couples from having more than two children, especially when the total fertility rate (TFR) for India is at 2 births per woman. Moreover, it is crucial to analyze the law as population control policies are often restrictive and hard to implement. For example, in the case of China, restrictive population control policies often have more pitfalls than benefits. While these policies reduce the burden of overpopulation on the nation's resources, they create issues like aging populations, labor shortages, imbalances in sex ratio, etc. Henceforth, one should also explore other population stabilization measures like providing affordable reproductive healthcare and family planning facilities and creating public awareness about using birth control measures. This blog, therefore, tries to understand the problems of overpopulation in India, looks behind the history of Population Control, and explores alternative solutions to the problem.
Overpopulation in India: How does it matter?
India is the second-most populous country, after China and is believed to surpass it by 2027 since a decline in China's birth rate has been observed in the last few years. Multiple reasons like enhanced life expectancy, lack of family planning, child marriage, and religious ideologies opposing family planning and birth control measures account for overpopulation in the country. India’s birth rate is still higher than its death rate, calling for stricter population control laws. Overpopulation poses various problems like overuse and inequitable distribution of resources. Lack of resources for many ends them up in traps of illiteracy, poor hygiene, and unemployment. Problems like water crises and rising food insecurity in the country are calling for stricter population control laws.
Government's response and analysis
To combat overpopulation, the government of Uttar Pradesh introduced legislation that restricts couples from having more than 2 children. Couples that have more than 2 children would be debarred from receiving benefits under social welfare schemes, contesting in local elections, etc. On the other hand, couples who abide by the norms or undergo voluntary sterilization may receive subsidies and benefits. The Sample Registration System (SRS) shows that while the population is expanding, the TFR is at a comforting 2.1 (replacement level fertility rate) at which a population only replaces itself from one generation to another. Instead of proposing a restrictive law in such a scenario, a policy that incentivises couples to have only 2 children through social welfare and family planning programs and birth control schemes would also serve efficiently.
History of Population Control in India and its implications
Hesitance in introducing population control laws stems from the lack of implementation of such laws during emergencies in India. The horror of 1976 is an example of how coercive and invasive laws can trigger fear among the public regarding population control laws since they are disproportionately targeted toward the lower strata of the society and often violate their rights. As reported by Mara Hvistendahl, 6.2 million men were sterilized in365 days and this figure is “15 times the number of people sterilized by the Nazis”. Thousands died due to unsuccessful implementation and discriminatory nature of such population control schemes. These schemes usually target the underprivileged and therefore, face resistance from their unchanged hesitant attitude towards family planning and birth control. Reports suggest that poor and illiterate men were forcefully picked up at railway stations and dragged from their homes to get them sterilized. The mass sterilization of the 1970s is a questionable violation of human rights.
Another issue with strict population control laws is that they unreasonably target women. For a long time, states and governments, as a notion to control the population, attempted to control women's bodies instead of teaching them about alternate methods of birth control, for sterilization is considered cheaper and easier than the latter. Although male sterilizations are easier to conduct, the burden of sterilization falls on women. India has the highest number of tubectomies each year- up to 37% of women are sterilized which is more than the 29% female sterilization rate in China. Poor and illiterate women are often forced to undergo birth control procedures without their consent. In West Bengal, intrauterine contraceptive devices were inserted into the bodies of several women without informing them. Other ways like bribing women with cash if they agree to undergo tubectomies have also been observed and have led to negative consequences. For instance, 14 women in Chattisgarh died at a government sterilization camp who agreed to get sterilized in return for 1400 INR.
Various other measures and family planning methods are much more sustainable and effective to exploitative population control policies that do not guarantee effective outcomes like the two-child policy in China. Some alternatives are:
Educating women: A close relationship between TFR and literacy amongst women exists. Southern states like Kerala where the literacy rate among women is higher have a TFR of 1.7 as compared to Bihar where women’s literacy rate is lower and TFR was about 3.7 in 2019. Schemes like “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” which promote girl-child education can effectively promote women’s education, delaying marriage and childbirth.
Promoting the usage of contraceptives: A close link between a decline in TFR as contraceptive usage increases has been seen in many countries like El Salvador where the TFR went from 5.44 births per woman to 2.72 births as contraceptive prevalence doubled. The government should conduct awareness campaigns to de-stigmatize the usage of contraceptives and also increase the basket of contraceptive choices.
Historically, both India and China have implemented stringent population control norms that eventually failed. Therefore, it is essential that the government thoroughly evaluates the need for a restrictive population control bill. Population stabilization measures like providing affordable reproductive healthcare, family planning facilities and creating public awareness about using birth control measures can also prove successful and sustainable since population control policies are often restrictive and hard to implement. As seen in the case of China, restrictive population control policies often have more pitfalls than benefits. While these policies reduce the burden of overpopulation on the resources of the nation, they create issues like aging populations, labor shortages, imbalances in sex ratio, etc.
(Written by Anushka Chib and Edited by Prakhar Singhania)