Large and Growing Population
India will be the world champion in population by 2030 beating its nearest rival, China. It is almost certain looking at its performance on population front. Right now it is home to 1.21 billion people and adding about 17 million heads per year at the rate of 1.41 percent. It is well over 42,500 per day; in other words, if you eat your lunch in half an hour 900 babies are already added to the national pool.
Fifty years ago, average number of children per family was almost six and now it is half of that, but still the population is growing. Currently, the national fertility rate is 2.75; for population stabilization it should be around 2.1 (China reached the fertility target of 2.1 two decades ago and it is currently 1.75). Government policies failed to achieve the fertility rate of 2.1 by 2010 because six large states could not reduce fertility as planned.
About 75% of the people live in more than 550,000 villages and the remainder 25% in about 200 towns and cities. Politically and economically, most of the development has remained confined within the quarter of the population living in the urban area. Neglect of the rural India for last sixty years is mainly responsible for the high poverty level as well as the current population size. Please read the following two articles.
Real Reason of Current Population Growth
The current population growth is not because women are having too many babies but simply because there are too many people in the reproductive age group – it is “young India”. Such a population growth is said to be driven by population momentum in the language of demographers. The following facts of “young India” are the reason of current population growth:
Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age;
More than 50% of Indian population is below 25; and
More than 65% people are under 35.
It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.
Faulty Population Control Policies
Coming from the Malthusian fear of too many hungry humans chasing a few bowls of food grains, traditionally the family planning initiative has remained centered around a narrow theme – permanent sterilization. This approach works fine to limit large family sizes. However, considering the changed demographic reality of India, it is out of sync with what is actually required now. Current realities need focused attack on population momentum which is a different ball game.
Target Population Momentum, Not Sterilization
The importance of momentum driven population growth increases as the fertility levels goes down. In 1994, noted demographer, John Bongaart, estimated that in the twenty-first century, population growth would be largely momentum driven and account for nearly half of world population increase. He also pointed out that the momentum driven population growth could be reduced simply by raising the average age of childbearing. He also estimated that an increase in the age at first birth by 2.5 year would reduce population growth momentum by 21%.
Applying Bongaart’s model to India, researcher Visaria concluded that about 70% population growth is due to population momentum, 24% from unwanted fertility, and the rest 6% from wanted fertility. Talking in plain language, 70% population growth is due to the fact that there are simply too people in the reproductive age. The 24% growth is due to undesired (or accidental) pregnancies which can be attributed to lack of easy availability of contraceptives, particularly in rural areas. And only 6% population growth is due to people’s desire to have more children.
Therefore, Indian population planners have to first understand this analysis and then reorganize their efforts to check the two main contributors to population growth – momentum and unwanted fertility. The correct way to counter population momentum involves delaying age at marriage, postponing the first birth, and then spacing further births. In the Indian context, these steps will have a significant impact. There is widespread tradition of child marriage in some populous parts of India where even girls below 15 are already married and have become mothers. Although the legal age of girl’s marriage is 18, it is routinely flouted in many parts of the country. For detailed analysis, please read
To counter the second biggest contributor (24%) to population growth – unwanted pregnancies – government need to strengthen its healthcare network in the rural areas where education and general awareness is rather poor. It requires equipping all the primary healthcare centers with sufficient supplies of contraceptives and making it easily available to people. Counseling women about their reproductive health issues and the health implications of early or child marriages is another urgent requirement. If only all the unwanted pregnancies are avoided, the fertility rate would fall below the target of 2.1.
The old medicine of sterilizing people is inappropriate in the current situation. The family planning battle should now shift to the social plane to fight the ill of early and child marriages and encourage the society for late marriage of girls. It involves a paradigm shift in the mindset of the population planners, right from top to bottom. Hope the family planners will wake up soon.