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PFI writes to Assam Health Minister on the proposed two child policy in the State

Unhappy over the Assam government’s proposed two-child norm, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) has written to Himanta Biswas Sarma, the State Health and Family Welfare recommending against the draft policy.

In a letter to Mr Sarma, the PFI Executive Director Poonam Muttreja has said “As a champion of a rights-based approach to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights, I request you to not rely on the two-child norm or any other coercive policy. Instead, may I invite you to work with us to work on changing social norms, ensuring universal access to family planning, ensure social and economic development policies are gender inclusive, and address and change behaviour patterns for population stabilisation in Assam.’’

The draft Population Policy of Assam is a document that evokes a deep awareness and understanding of the economic and social concerns of the state, a sense of determination to mend the gaps in the system, and a beacon of hope in its conviction. “For this, I must congratulate you and your cabinet. However, it is also one that fractures the single most fundamental mandate of family planning – it suggests that numbers matter more than people do,’’ the letter said.

Reminding Mr Sarma that India was the first developing nation with the foresight to formulate a National Family Welfare Programme in 1952, which was derailed by the forced sterilisations of 1975, Ms Muttreja said since then, especially, post the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairoin 1994, India changed the discourse from population “control” to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“Following this paradigm shift in the discourse we have eliminated factors like coercion, disincentives, or a target-based approach to family planning as reflected in the National Population Policy, 2000.Not only does it compromise our commitment to a rights-based approach to family planning, it is also undemocratic and discriminatory,’’ she said. In the past, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh brought in the two-child norm to tackle high Total Fertility Rate. The policy did not bring down the high fertility in these states instead there was an increase in sex-selective abortions, incidents of women being deserted, and women giving their children up for adoption.

While Assam’s maternal mortality, infant mortality, and under-5 mortality is a cause for concern, the draft policy has made solid recommendations that will address this. The move to empower women and girls by making education free right up to university level, to lower the drop-out rates for girls, and measures that combine the roles of childbearing and participation in the workforce are crucial in achieving Assam’s population goals, Ms Muttreja has said in her letter.

Formulating appropriate family planning information and communication, improving primary care facilities, and focusing on pockets of unmet need for contraceptives will have the desired impact on strengthening women’s health and ensuring healthy children; lowering maternal, infant and child mortality. In Bangladesh, data has shown that if no child had died in a family the Total Fertility Rate was 2.6 children; when 1 child died the number was 4.7 children; 2 child deaths meant 6.2 children; and more than 3 child deaths boosted TFR to 8.3, the letter said.

“ I would like to take the liberty of presenting to you evidence from the case of China where a one-child policy was state law for 35 years till the country was forced to lift it in 2015. The country now finds itself in the midst of a population crisis. In fact, it was observed that ‘China’s dramatic post-1978 economic boom and the profound social changes unleashed by rising incomes and levels of education and rapid urbanisation would have driven down birth rates even in the absence of state birth planning campaigns.’

I would also like to juxtapose this with an example from the southern state of Kerala where the TFR reduced in all communities and across economic and social groups from 3.0 in 1979 to 1.8 in 1991. This was achieved not by coercion but by improving education, women and child welfare, and development. In neighbouring Sri Lanka, fertility rates were stabilised by simply increasing the age at marriage, a move that was made more effective by ensuring girls were educated,’’ she said in the letter.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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