Selected news stories from the international press relating to Asian (In)Fertilities:
How India's family planners lost the plot - Times of India
(19 July 2009)
In 1979, China’s total fertility rate was 2.8, while Kerala’s was 3. By 2007, 28 years after it forced a coercive one-child policy on its people, China’s fertility rate stood at 1.7. Kerala reached the same figure but without treating its people like laboratory rats. Its success stands on the three ‘E’ pillars: Education, Employment, Equality. On the ground, Kerala’s three Es translate into a high literacy rate, regular income for families and more confident women. But the rest of India, particularly the north, has not learned anything from Kerala.
This is of a piece with India’s flawed population policies in general, say experts. Jawaharlal Nehru saw a large population “as an asset” for a poor country and never formulated a population policy. Fast-forward to the dark days of the Emergency, when lakhs of Indians were lured with petty cash and cans of vegetable oil to ‘family planning camps’, where they were sterilized. In 1977, Indira Gandhi was kicked out of office, ‘family planning’ was renamed ‘family welfare’ and a red triangle with catchy slogans such as ‘hum do, hamare do’ was painted on suitable surfaces across the country to urge Indians to have smaller families. And yet, the latest UN projections say India will have two billion people by 2101 if the population continues to grow at the current rate. India’s population control measures, it seems, are a failure. Where did we go wrong? Experts blame the emphasis on sterilization, which was started in the late 1960s. “We fell for terms like ‘population explosion’, which were coined by the West which saw the growing population of India and China as a security threat during the Cold War days,” says A R Nanda, executive director of Population Foundation of India, an NGO for demographic studies. He points out that “population growth can’t be controlled by coercive measures (but) with economic growth, education for all and empowerment of women.” He should know. Nanda was secretary in the health ministry in 2000, when India drafted its first national population policy (NPP). He says the biggest problem is India’s lack of a holistic approach. The NPP made family planning part of the wider health programme, which is why family planning slogans have become less visible in the last nine years, ceding way to general health-related exhortations. This has been something of a success. Venkatesh Srinivasan, assistant representative of the UN Population Fund in India, recounts a project in Rajasthan to encourage people to space out their first and second babies. “We focused on the health of the mother and child. Now, the consumption of oral contraceptives is the highest in Rajasthan,” he says. But Srinivasan says that it is not government schemes per se that have failed but the failure to pay attention “to the issues of communication and providing enough contraceptives to enough people”. But with the figure of two billion Indians staring us in the face, it’s time the government paid attention.