Population Stabilisation: The future of family planning

NFHS 2019-20 preliminary findings show focusing on women’s education & health is a better route to population control than coercive measures

Recent projections clearly show that coercive population policies, which have been gaining momentum in recent times, are not the way forward. (Representative image)
Recent projections clearly show that coercive population policies, which have been gaining momentum in recent times, are not the way forward. (Representative image)
By Poonam Muttreja

India’s family planning programme has had a remarkable journey. As a signatory of the International Conference for Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action 1994, India is committed to an empowerment-based approach, which looks beyond numbers and emphasises on education, health and addressing social determinants as a means to achieving population stabilisation.

The positive outcomes of these efforts are evident from the first phase of the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2019-20 and released in December 2020. The survey results indicate an increase in use of modern contraceptives, reduction in the unmet need for family planning among women in the surveyed states and UTs. It is clear that India is on road to achieving population stabilisation, with the total fertility rate (number of children born per woman) decreasing across 14 of 17 surveyed states, to 2.1 children per woman or lower.

Further, given India’s large young population, in absolute numbers, the population will peak by 2050, followed by a steep decline. TFR is predicted to reach 1.3 by 2100. These projections emphasise progress in female education attainment and increased access to contraceptives as key contributors.

Recent projections clearly show that coercive population policies, which have been gaining momentum in recent times, are not the way forward. India continues to be a society with strong son-preference, where families govern the number of children a woman will bear. A coercive population policy will likely result in higher number of sex-selective abortions, abandonment of female babies and girls and skewed sex ratio at birth. Global evidence from countries like China shows how coercive policies led to a population crisis. Well-implemented family health programmes are crucial to upholding the right and dignity of individuals.

Going forward, there is an urgent need to increase investments in the provisioning of family planning services. In the Budget FY22, the allocation for the department of health and family welfare is `71,269 crore, while the revised estimate for FY21 was Rs 78,866 crore. Allocations for central sector and centrally sponsored family welfare schemes, which include the budgets for procurement and distribution of contraceptives to states, was `600 crore in FY21 and Rs 387.15 crore in FY22. In order to maintain the momentum of India’s commendable performance in moving towards population stabilisation, investments in family planning are critical. According to a study by Population Foundation of India, “The Cost of Inaction in Family Planning in India”, India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) could rise an additional 13% by 2031 if family planning policies and investments were actively prioritised.

In his Independence Day speech in 2019, the PM had aptly stated that, “If the population is not educated, not healthy, then neither the home nor the country can be happy. Governments also have to come forward, be it the state government or the central government—everyone has to walk together to shoulder this responsibility.” Formulating appropriate family planning policies and programmes, investing in social and behaviour change communication, improving primary care facilities, and focusing on sections of the population with unmet need for contraceptives will improve health outcomes for women and children. It is equally important to encourage and incentivise girls’ secondary and tertiary education, acquire skills to join the workforce, delay age of marriage and childbirth, thereby contributing to the household and national economy. It is important to recognise that family planning is not women’s responsibility alone and that men need to step up their use of contraception, namely, condoms and vasectomy, and support women to ensure reproductive justice in every way. And finally, it is incumbent upon our leaders to dispel myths and misconceptions around population growth.

The author is Executive director, Population Foundation of India

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