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

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