Population Growth Rate has been Declining Steadily
Population of India was growing at its peak during the 1960’s at about 3% per year. Over the decades, the growth rate has fallen down to about 1.5%. The figure of 1.21 billion can certainly scare weak hearted people but the rate of growth has been falling and is expected to fall further in coming years. The average number of children per woman was six fifty years ago, now it is about 2.75. Therefore, all talks of “population explosion” or some “population Bomb” ticking in India are nothing but display of irrational fears following 200 year old Malthusian theory that poses growing population as a threat to earth’s limited food supply. This theory certainly appeals some Western intellectuals who see humans as merely food consuming morons – who are good for nothing else!
Large number of people in the Reproductive Age
The demographic structure of India has changed over the decades. Over 30% population – 332 million – consists of young people are in the 10 – 24 year age group and over half of the population is in the reproductive age. This large base of young people is pushing population growth. The current average total fertility rate (TFR) is about 2.7, although India aimed to reduce it to the replacement-level fertility (TFR 2.1) by the end of 2010 – and of course failed! It was mainly due to bad performance of populous states such as MP, UP, Bihar– nothing surprising about that.
Replacement fertility level is when every woman gives birth to, on an average, one daughter – taking statistics into account, when she gives birth to 2 children. However, to account for the possibility of death of the daughter before her first pregnancy the figure of 2.1 is generally considered. So, when on an average 2.1 children are born per woman and every other parameter stays the same, population growth should come to an end and become stable. However, this population stabilization occurs after 3-4 decades, until then it continues to grow due to momentum.
Since, the TFR 2.1 deadline of 2010 is missed and assuming it will be achieved say, in 2020, then the Indian population should stabilize around 2055 – 60.
Demographic Transition In India
Talking of the TFR data from different states, average of 16 states (55% of total population) is near the replacement fertility level. The laggards are the highly populous states, Uttar Pradesh and erstwhile Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. But looking at the efforts, it is conceivable that the magic number of TFR 2.1 will be attained soon in coming years, by 2020.
India is certainly at an important stage of demographic transition. In fact, not just Indiabut most of the less developed world is also undergoing demographic transition – it is a transition from a stable population with high mortality and high fertility to another stable population with low mortality and low fertility. Much of the Western world had achieved this transition decades ago due to better healthcare and education level of their people, resulting from strong economic development.
In democratic India this transition has been relatively slow but steady. It is in stark contrast with the Chinese efforts, which forced people to adopt one child norm to quickly achieve sub replacement fertility levels, by turning blind eye to human right’s violation. It has also left China with severely distorted male/female ratio with potential for grave social issues in the future. Read
What is the Best Way Forward
Indian family planning policy makers have to first come out of their traditional mindset of equating family planning with sterilizations (female sterilization, more specifically). Besides, they appear to be lost looking at the family planning issues purely from the clinical angle. Well, the clinical aspect will be always there, but its focus has to be broadened so that all aspects of reproductive healthcare can be addressed. Besides, there is need for easy availability of contraceptives, particularly in rural areas, along with counseling.
Easy access to contraceptives alone can prevent about 20% of live births that are due to unwanted (unplanned) pregnancies. This single step alone can quickly bring TFR to around 2.0 in many areas and drastically reduce number of abortions, which isn’t a healthy practice anyway. Furthermore, changed lifestyle is also encouraging extra marital relationships in the young India. Therefore, focusing on increasing availability and accessibility of temporary contraceptives is the demand of the new realities. The age old practice of sterilization is only suitable to those who have completed their families and it needs to be put into right perspective.
Population planners also need to consider the issue of gender equality seriously and its impact on fertility and reproductive health of women. In fact, if one think carefully it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that women empowerment is the best contraceptive.
The planners ought to wake up to the new realities of the changed demography of the country. They have to now fight the battle on the social plain because the issues to be addressed are: raising age at marriage, delaying first pregnancy, and spacing births. These three steps will drastically reduce the population growth due to momentum, which has a huge contribution of 60% – 70% towards population increase. Read
Indian family planning authorities should resist the temptation of staying with the outdated Malthusian mindset of viewing population as a threat. The reality of the current Indian demography demands that population be seen as an asset. Therefore, their mindsets need to shift from “Population Control” to “Population Development”. Development of people through right education and healthcare can solve many issues – even population, assuming it is a problem!
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