Opinion

U.P. population Bill isn’t on the right track

Rajesh Mehta/Deshna Jain | Updated on July 30, 2021

Apart from the flawed carrot and stick approach, it could fuel female infanticide and impinges on personal rights

When the world observed Population Day on July 11, the Uttar Pradesh Government announced a rather unexpected policy Bill. The Yogi government declared the need to control the State’s population and set ambitious targets, like lowering the gross fertility rate to 2.1 by 2026 and 1.9 by 2030.

The Uttar Pradesh Government plans to execute this by nudging the people, through incentives and disincentives, into adopting a “Hum do humare do” policy. The push goes to the extent of putting government jobs at stake as well as using them as a bait.

A single child would be given preference in government jobs, while it would bar those who do not adhere to the policy from applying to government jobs.

The question of significance is: Does U.P. really need this Bill? As per the Census of 2011, U.P. is the most populous State of India, but according to the NFHS, the fertility rate in the State has been declining, falling from 4.1 in 1998 to 2.7 in 2016. This shows that the population would stabilise if the only reason behind the rise is the number of births in the State.

One thing the Bill overlooks is the already weak sex ratio of the State, at 912 females per 1,000 males. The Bill would fuel female infanticide, thanks to the cultural affinity for a boy child; gender screening and unsafe abortions are likely to go up.

The experts also fear sterilisation may make women lose control over their bodies. The Bill in various parts mentions that if a married man gets himself or his spouse sterilised, they would get incentives from the State.

Crimes against women

Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of crimes committed against women, and this means women are least likely to be employed. In such a situation, the Bill can unintentionally lead to women losing their reproductive rights and undergo involuntary sterilisation because of the ‘incentives’ to the family. It might not only be an attack on their right to reproductive freedom but also curtail their rights to privacy and personal liberty.

Another sore point in the Bill is the adoption policy. The Bill mentions that a married couple that does not have a child born out of their marriage cannot adopt more than two children. It also states that a married couple who has two children born out of their marriage can also not adopt two or more children. There are ethical and moral issues involved here.

The Nordic countries, for example, have successfully managed their population levels through the means of better education and awareness programmes.

Chief Minister Yogi defends the Bill by stating the scarcity of ecological and economic resources in the Sate and talks about “sustainable development”. Examining some examples from neighbouring countries will throw more light on how population-control measures should, and should not, be executed.

China’s policy

China started with its population control policy in the 1980s and had strict norms to ensure that couples abide by the policy. China’s birth rates have fallen to under 1.7 children per woman. Initially, China began with a “two-child policy” that was a voluntary and highly effective programme executed through the widespread use of contraceptives.

It then implemented a “one-child policy” in urban areas, mainly through female sterilisation, and the fertility rates fell further. However, in the long run, China has paid a price for it. It faces unprecedented gender imbalances and is left with a rapidly ageing population.

On the other hand, Bangladesh’s is a successful example of how population should be controlled. Bangladesh adopted a community-based approach and hired married and literate women to go door-to-door and dispense contraceptives. These women proved to be the torch-bearers of voluntary population control process. Simultaneously, the government prioritised female education in the belief that an educated woman has the confidence and knowledge to have greater control over her reproductive health. Fertility rates in the country have more than halved over the years.

The U.P. population Bill talks about the duties of the government at the end, and states that the government will make contraceptives available at reasonable rates as well as introduce a compulsory subject related to population control in secondary schools.

But these are far from sufficient. The general literacy rates need to be raised in the State with awareness programmes for the couples. A contraceptive delivery system like that in Bangladesh would act as a catalyst.

Mehta is a consultant and columnist on market entry, innovation and public policy, Jain is an intern at NITI Aayog and a researcher with keen interest in public policy and economics

Published on July 30, 2021

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