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World Population Day: Can Modern India Curb Its Population Explosion?

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Every year, July 11th is celebrated as World Population Day. With India poised to be the most populous country by 2024, the question – how successful are we at family planning? – begs to be answered.

Family Planning in India

As per the Census of 2011, the population of India now stands at a staggering 125 Crore, a figure that threatens to teeter into a dangerous population explosion. This, despite the fact that India’s official family planning programme is one of the oldest in the world, launched shortly after independence, in 1951. Family planning has always held a spotlight under the Ministry of Health, and for decades, its hallmark initiative, ‘Hum do hamare do’, was a tagline that swept through the nation through flash television advertisements and clever word of mouth. Eventually, it inspired the widespread adoption of family planning methods.

But were they enough?

Overpopulation & Its Factors

Overpopulation in tier 1 and tier 2 cities is an irrefutable reality, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate failing family planning in India. What it does represent is a transitory trend of migrants from rural to urban areas, in search of jobs, better housing and access to infrastructure. Contraceptive adoption has increased from 13% in the 1970s to more than 56% in the current day. Likewise, infant mortality has reduced from 130 per 1,000 children before independence, to 41 now. Overall life expectancy has increased, from below 40 years around the same time frame to 64 years now. Due to enhanced longevity and diminished mortality, contraception is only an avenue to population control. Because India holds an astronomical young population, opportunities are limited. The need of the hour then, is to create adequate housing opportunities and multiply jobs.

Contemporary Contraception Trends

From the contraceptive pill in the 1990s, intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCD) and birth control pills in the early millennium to the advent of injectable contraceptives last year, contemporary contraception has presented a new range of options to women in India. In 2017, the government drove a new campaign as part of its family planning programme, called Mission Parivar Vikas. The initiative sought to bring a perceptual shift towards family planning, moving it from a pedestal of health to one of social wellness. According to NHFS-4 reports, 53.5% of couples in India use contraceptive methods today, with female sterilisation making up 36% of this number. Male sterilisation has seen less momentum, due to a deep-seated mindset caused by forced vasectomies during the Emergency of 1975. Among other contraceptive methods, IUCDs are used by 1.5% people, contraceptive pills by 4.1% and condoms by 5.6%.

Population Control Law

As compelling as it is as a measure to curb population growth, a population control law can do more harm than good. Such laws already exist in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Odisha. However, the implications of a control cap can have damaging effects on female infanticide. This very reason forced the governments of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh to countermand their two-child laws.

Progress in India

In broad strokes, India has painted a picture of progress, bringing down its total fertility rate (TFR) – or the average number of children born to a woman – from 2.7 to 2.2, over the last decade. In the same timeframe, teenage fertility rates have climbed down by 50%, from 16% to 8%, and over half of the 2.6 Crore babies born in 2016 had a birth interval of at least three years. Thanks to safe contraception, India is seeing progress on many fronts – a decline in unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions, an aversion of maternal deaths and better quality of life.

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