July 11 has been designated by the United Nations as World Population Day.
The World Population Day was started in 1989 by the then governing council of the United Nations Development Programme after the global population had outgrown the five billion mark on July 11, 1987.
The countries resolved to observe the day in order to spread awareness about the rise in population, family planning, woes of overpopulation and empowerment of people in developing nations through population control.
This year’s theme is “access to family planning“.
India’s population stand
According to the latest data of April 2016 from World Bank, India’s population stands at 1.26 billion. It is only behind China which has a population of 1.37 billion according to the same data.
UN estimates that the second most populous country in the world is set to surpass China as the most populous country by 2024 and the drop in India’s population will only come around 2050.
According to the National Family Health Survey 2017 (NFHS-4), India is expected to reach replacement level fertility (RLL) of 2.1 by 2020.
About Replacement Level Fertility (RLL)
It is the size of the population that replaces a generation to a next generation in order to sustain the population level.
The survey data shows that there has been a drop in the average number of children in each family from 2.7 to 2.2 in the last decade. This seems to be one bright spot.
Around 365 million people in India are in the age bracket of 10-24 years. The NFHS expects this group to be the main driver of the population in coming decades.
The biggest concerns due to fast population growth comes in the matters of employment, education, healthcare and nutrition.
There is already a dearth of employment in the country and though the government is implementing several programs to address the issue, it is undeniable that the employment will need to grow faster.
We have a large number of young people but we do not have the skills or jobs for this to translate linearly into larger economic output.
India is short of specialist medical practitioners by 81 per cent in rural community health centres and the private sector has 63 per cent of the hospital beds in the country, according to a health and family welfare department data.
Any development planning with a time horizon of more than a few years has to factor in the changing size of the base population and, therefore, the changing size of the resources needed to meet the requirements even if the per capita requirements remain unchanged. However, this obvious calculation has not been made.
For example, there is an insane competition for college admissions in our towns and cities. However, the rise in the number of seats has not kept even modest pace with the rise in the number of those finishing secondary school and wanting to go on to college.
The way ahead:
Family planning: A tangible tool to empower people and enable development
The World Population Day 2017 theme this year is, ‘Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations’.
The theme aims at providing safe, voluntary family planning to the people around the world and in a way, help in curbing the population growth and help maintain the world population.
Access to safe voluntary family planning is a human right. It is also central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty. Investments in making family planning available also yield economic and other gains that can propel development forward.
Empowering women: need of the hour
With 70% of Indian population residing in villages and growing urbanisation, it is imperative that the practice or custom of family planning is embraced by the rural community as well as the urban.
UNFPA studies conducted in more than 40 developing countries show that birth rates fall as women gain equality.
In rural areas, education allows women to be in control of their lives not just financially but also reproductively.
These women are in a better position to take decisions on when and how many children they desire to have. With female education and family planning, greater prosperity has followed.
While family planning initiatives have been proactively driven since pre-independence era in India, the brunt of contraception has been traditionally borne by women. Eighty two years after the National Planning Committee was set up, the trends haven’t changed much. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (2015-2016), female sterilisation is still the most preferred mode of contraception (37.3%) and vasectomy ranks the lowest (1.0%), lagging far behind traditional methods, pills and intra-uterine devices. To add to this, India is also plagued with problems such as lack of awareness, familial pressures, and socio-economic and cultural restrictions limiting its family planning initiatives.
Educated women conscious of family planning are, therefore, the fulcrum of an empowered society. Women’s empowerment is indispensable when viewed within the gender equality paradigm. Although Indian family planning programmes provide contraceptive choices to both men and women, societal norms have ensured that the onus remains on the latter. Efforts need to be made to facilitate male engagement in promoting family planning and reproductive health, while encouraging them to be supportive partners of women’s reproductive health decisions.