July 11, 2017

Over Population- Myths and Facts #WorldPopulationDay

by National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights

The World Population Day is celebrated every year on the 11th of July as a result of a UN Resolution in 1990 seeking to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relations to the environment and development. In India the World Population Day has more often than not been an occasion to highlight the ‘overpopulation’ in the country with a focus on the total number of people living in India and that this number is ‘too much’. This year this focus on overpopulation has been reinforced by a new group of concerned citizens called TAXAB or the Taxpayers Association of Bharat who are calling for a new population control law under the hashtag #Bharat4PopulationLaw.

The overall logic of this campaign is two-fold – the first part argues that as tax-payers of India we should be concerned about the misuse of our taxes by the system towards the development of Bharat. The second part explains the nature of the misuse which manifests as lack of good roads, joblessness, increasing poverty, lack of good food, clean air etc. And this lack of good infrastructure and facilities as well as pollution is due to increasing population – primarily among the BPL.

In quick strokes it creates a division between the tax-payer who is being short-changed by the poor who are growing in numbers, and secondly it attributes all the ills of the country to growing population, though it first argues that there is mismanagement by the system. The problems in the country are there for all to experience, and urban overcrowding is a phenomenon nearly all taxpayers are facing daily – so the logic is bound to be extremely attractive.

However this entire argument is based on myths.

The population growth rate in India is not growing but instead has been slowing for the last few decades. From a high of 2.3 percent per year in the 1970’s and 80’s it is now down to 1.2% per year. At the level of the family the Total Fertility Rate or number of children a woman has in her life has reduced from 5 in the 1970’s to 2.2 in 2015-16. The total wanted fertility is below 2 but women do not receive the contraceptive services that they want. The population growth rate is a function of birth, death and migration. In India, the birth rates are still a little high, but not because women are having more babies but because the number of young couples in India is higher than ever before. And this large number of young couples even when they have fewer babies each, the total adds up. This will come down as the babies born in the heydays of population growth and their children become older. In other words there is not much we can do to reduce their reproductive rate other than provide them with spacing methods. Now understand the various problems that have been attributed to population growth. India was a poor country in 1947 when India became independent, now it is no longer a poor country.
By expert estimates the GDP growth between 1951 and 2011 was over 20 times and food grain output grew by over 4 times while population grew by a little over 3 times in the same period. Clearly the total amount of food or income available per head has grown but poverty seem to be all around us. The TAXAB campaign has highlighted the bad state of roads and infrastructure as a result of overpopulation, highlighting the poor state of infrastructure in cities. This overcrowding of Indian cities is not a result of overpopulation but migration from villages to cities. This migration is often as a result of rural distress, and lack of employment opportunities which is highlighted by the continuing news of farmer suicides from across the country.
The TAXAB campaign also makes reference to pollution in the name of ‘shudh’ and ‘ashudh’ food, water and air. Pollution in India is undeniable, but is overpopulation the cause behind it as the #Bharat4PopulationLaw seems to imply? Pollution is most often contributed by the burning of fossil fuels, either for transportation or for factories or for generating electricity which then powers our air conditioners, or factories. We need to understand that the poor, who are a much larger proportion of the population, require very little fossil fuel generated energy. Their requirements for water too are very little. Research shows that the richer countries and the rich in countries like ours consume 20 – 30 times more energy in their whole lifetimes than the poor. Here if the population of people is to be seen as a problem, it is the fewer rich who pose much more problems for the absolute consumption of resources as well as the contribution to pollution.

The overall logic of the #Bharat4PopulationLaw campaign seems to imply that the taxpayers need to be worried because not much has happened through their taxes in the last seventy years. And this is where the campaign organisers have been completely misled. While overcrowding is a fact, it does not indicate a failure of contraceptive related practices among the people. Overall contraceptive usage rates have increased from 13% in the 1970’s to over 56% now. Infant mortality rate, or number of children who die before reaching the age of one year has reduced from over 130 per 1000 children to 41 now.
Overall life expectancy has also increased from less than 40 years at the time of independence to over 64 years now. More people are living, less people are dying, fewer children are being born but more people are crowding to cities where there is inadequate infrastructure, few job opportunities and we see more poor people in our streets.
A population control law is not the solution to the problems that have been indicated by TAXAB. A population control law as we have seen in China will lead to further decline in the number of girls in the country, a problem that our society is already facing. It will lead to reducing opportunities for the poor, and marginalized, including the dalits, as such laws deny benefits to those with more children. Data shows the poor have more children, but not because they want it, but because they don’t receive the appropriate services.
Women bear the disproportionate burden of population control laws, as they bear children and can be faced with repeated abortions or even desertion as men take desperate measures to keep their family size small and qualify for positions for which they can become disqualified. Yes we need changes in policies and the way they are implemented to address the issues that TAXAB has highlighted but the approach is misplaced. . The problem lies not in the population related policies but in economic policies which have not focused adequately on health or education or economic opportunities for the poor.
Yes tax-payers need to rise up and make demands from our government to increase the investment of healthcare so that not only the poor but we all are healthier and more capable, without become penurious due to healthcare costs.
We need to make demands to increase the quality of standards of the government schools so that children educated there are more empowered, and we are all confident enough to send our children to these schools rather than the very expensive private schools that are coming up every day.
Our family planning programme needs to be reoriented towards the needs of younger couples through increased availability of spacing methods. Men need to involved in discussions around family planning.
And last but not the least we need to ensure all young people have adequate knowledge and information about their bodies, and reproductive health which enables them to take decisions that will enable them to live healthy and productive lives.

NAMHHR is an  Alliance of  members from 14 states of India, as well as expert advisors working with research, Right to Food, public health, right to medicines and budget accountability.
Dr Abhijit Das, NAMHHR Convenor

April 26, 2017

Assam – NAMHHR submits comments on the Draft Population Policy

Mr Samir K Sinha,
Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of Assam,
Health and Family Welfare Department,
Government of Assam.
Date 25th April 2017

This is with reference to the Draft State Population Policy Assam which has been put up for comments. We would like to make the following observations:
1.       In the Introduction Section we would like to endorse the inclusion of the following as issues of key concerns – promotion of inclusive growth, ageing, urbanization, migration, financial and economic challenges, improving the quality of life of present and future generations, promote social justice and eradicate poverty and so on.
2.       We endorse the context of the National Population Policy 2000 with its focus on Socio Demographic Goals
3.       We would however like to draw your attention to the assertion that the population of Assam has grown by ‘almost 1 crore’ between 2001 and 2011. According to the figures given in the document the population has grown from 2.66 crore to 3.12 or 46 lakh or less than 50% of 1 crore and it is a gross exaggeration  The percentage growth of Assam’s population has been declining consistently from 35% and 36% decadal growth in the 1970’s and 1980’s to 17% now. This decline is more than the decline that has taken place at the National Level.
4.       The decline of Total Fertility Rate in Assam has been from 3.53 in 1992 -93 to 2.3 now which is a 35 % decline in a little over 20 years. There is also an unmet need for contraceptive (10%) which if met would bring down the TFR by a further.2 to 2.1 the desired level of fertility.
5.       We would like to bring to your notice that the reduction in TFR to 2.1 will not immediately reduce the population growth rate to stabilization levels because of ‘Population Momentum’. Population Momentum will continue for nearly 20 years or more because as population growth comes down from high population growth rates, the proportion of reproducing couples increases due to earlier high growth rates and lower mortality among children. Thus the population growth rate continues to be high as higher number of couples now have fewer children compared to the earlier situation of fewer couples having more children.
6.       We also endorse 10 of the 11 Targets of the Policy and would like to draw your attention to the last target – “Encouraging the Two family norm to substantially reduce TFR”. The two family or two child norm which is aimed at encouraging family size reduction through peer pressure has not been found to be successful in India since it was introduced in the Panchayati Raj acts in some states 1990’s. Some states have even withdrawn it. Some of the adverse effects of the two child norm that has been identified and studied through research are as follows:
a.       It tends to penalize women compared to men, because when faced with the option between a job or local leadership, women have to give up their aspirations and have the child, while men go ahead with their option compelling women to have an abortion
b.      It tends to penalize younger people compared to older people because the two child norm applies to children born after a particular date. It does not penalize older people with three four five or more children born before the cut-off date. This is particularly discriminatory because India is a country of young people.
c.       It tends to penalize poor and marginalized communities because the poor and marginalized usually have more children. This is not because they ‘want’ more children but because infant mortality figures are higher in poorer communities, and they are also further away health services. The data provided in the section Assam: The Development and Demographic Challenge, indicates the diversity in the state and how this affects some of the marginalized communities. This a two child norm will vitiate against the ‘inclusive growth’ agenda of the population policy.
d.      The two child norm has also been shown to be against child rights because people with more than two children often hide their third child or give it away for adoption. In such a situation the child is often denied even basic services like immunization. In other cases the third child often gets excluded from development benefits which are intended to ‘punish’ the parents. We must realize that the third or subsequent child has no role in the decision to be born and to deny it any benefits essential for its survival and well-being would be a child rights and human rights violation.
e.      Assam is one of the few states in the country with a ‘healthy’ sex ratio including the juvenile or child sex ratio. However the child sex ratio did show a small decline  of three points between 2001 and 2011 which should alert planners. A two child norm has severe implications for the child sex ratio of the state. In the presence of gender discrimination and son preference when faced with a two child norm families adopt sex selective practices and while it is okay for them to have two boys, one boy and one one girl or one boy, families do not prefer 2 daughters or one daughter. This creates a further pressure on the sex ratio of children. In China a similar one-child has led to a drastic reduction in the ratio of girls and women in the population
f.        We would like to point out that states like point out that states like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh repealed the two child norm from their Panchayati Raj Acts, and state like UP and Bihar considered the two child norm but finally did not implement it because of the various adverse outcomes associated with this act. China too has relaxed its one  child policy.
7.       We would also like to point out the essential difference between a restriction through a laws like minimum age at marriage and two child related restrictions. Restricting child marriage prevents young girls (and boys) from being exposed to reproductive responsibilities and possible sexual violence before they are capable to being either able to decide for themselves or before their bodies are mature. It is a restriction meant to protect the vulnerable. A two child norm on the other hand has been seen to systematically disadvantage the vulnerable. Since the Population Policy is intended to primarily support and help vulnerable population including children, women, elderly and the poor the two child norm is a totally in appropriate measure.
We do hope you will take these facts into considerations and revise the draft Population Policy accordingly,


National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR)
Dr. Abhijit Das, Centre for Health & Social Justice, New Delhi
Vasvi Kiro, Torang  Trust, Jharkhand
Kalyani Meena, Prerna Bharti, Jharkhand
Jeevan Krushna Behera, SODA, Odisha
Vivekanand Ojha, Health Watch Forum, Bihar
Smriti Shukla, Maternal Health and Rights Campaign, MP
Adv. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Maharashtra
Sandhya YK,  Sahayog, UP
 Sandhya Gautam, from NAMHHR Secretariat

1.       Article: Victimising the Vulnerable in Economic and Political Weekly by DrLeelaVisaria and colleagues
2.       Article: Victims of Coercion: in The Frontline by T.K. Rajlakshmi
3.       Press clipping: HP plans to delete two-child norm from Panchayat eligibility Indian Express
4.       Press Note: Two Child norm for contesting elections to be abolished MP Government website
5.       Debate on Two child norm in the Parliament on 10.03.2006 – RajyaSabha proceedings