Legislation proposed to control the population of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, is expected to have a disproportionate impact on women.
Unveiling of a new population policy for 2021-2030 recently, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the policy target was to bring the state’s birth rate to 2.1 per thousand by 2026 and to 1, 9 by 2030. Uttar Pradesh’s current fertility rate is 2.7 per thousand people.
The state is India’s most populated state with nearly 200 million inhabitants â 16.5% of the country’s population.
A few days earlier before the unveiling of the new population policy, a draft population control bill was released into the public domain. The the bill does two thingsone, it incentivizes employees and their spouses to pursue sterilization after having two children with promotion, raises and education for children; and second, it prohibits those with more than two children from applying for government jobs, seeking promotions, receiving government grants, and standing for election to local bodies.
This policy is not only punitive but, more importantly, it is gender blind; this could have a disproportionate impact on women, especially poor and marginalized women.
Women in Uttar Pradesh bear the burden of family planning. According to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS-4), 17.3% of women in Uttar Pradesh use female sterilization as a method of family planning, compared to only 0.1% of male sterilizations. Female sterilizations are more dangerous and irreversible than male sterilization or the use of contraceptives.
By encouraging sterilizations under the Population Control Bill, the government of Uttar Pradesh is placing more responsibilities on women in family planning. It also risks reversing the trend of increasing use of safer methods such as condom use. Condoms are the second most popular family planning method in Uttar Pradesh and twice as prevalent as the national average for Indiaaccording to NFHS-4.
The incitement to sterilization has been the subject of criticism from women’s rights organizations, health networks and academics. âThe bill is aimed at controlling women’s fertility rather than improving women’s health and promoting women’s reproductive rights. The proposed bill should be ruled unconstitutional as it violates the right to equality,â they or they wrote in a memorandum to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind.
They added that the population control bill could lead to increased abandonment of wives and children, especially girls, given the wide gap in abortion services. Cases of women being abandoned, divorced or killed for giving birth to a daughter, in a state like Uttar Pradesh where son preference remains high, are not hard to find.
A study by bureaucrat Nirmala Buch found that in five Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha and Rajasthan) where the qualification of both children was implemented in local bodies, sex-selective and unsafe abortions have increasedfamilies abandoned their children for adoption and men divorced or abandoned their wives to avoid disqualification.
This impact of the two-child norm was also hierarchical, with powerful castes and classes able to circumvent these provisions, while women, especially those from marginalized castes and classes, were worse off. Socially backward classes formed 80% of people disqualified to run for local elections and almost half were from lower income brackets.
Study finds highest shortfalls in female births from 2017 to 2030 will occur in Uttar Pradesh, with 2 million missing female births â 28.5% of the total deficit in female births between 2017 and 2030 for the whole country. Introducing a two-child policy will only exacerbate the problem of sex-selective abortions and female feticide, as evidenced by this study and in the case of China, which has seen a rapid increase in female infanticide after the introduction of its one-child policy.
The 2011 census reveals that India has already very asymmetrical sex ratios the sex ratio among children declining over the decade, from 927 to 919 females per 1,000 males. The proposed policy could skew it further, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, where the latest sex ratio of children is 902 women for every 1000 men.
Uttar Pradesh is the second state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party to introduce such a population control measure. Last month, Assam announced plans for a policy this would deprive families with more than two children of government benefits.
Like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat will face crucial parliamentary elections next year. His government also said that it was studying the bill proposed by the government of Uttar Pradesh and that it to weigh the pros and cons. A BJP parliamentarian from Uttar Pradesh, Ravi Kishen, is also planning to introduce a similar population control bill in the current monsoon session of parliament.
Although fertility rates in Uttar Pradesh have been above the national average, they have steadily declined in recent years; it has almost halved 4.8% in 1992-93 at 2.7% in 2015-2016, according to National Family Health Surveys, raising questions about the timing of this harsh policy.
There is no denying that declining fertility in a state with a large population like Uttar Pradesh is essential for India to achieve its population control goals. But this should not have a disproportionate impact on women.
Recently, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that improve women’s education is a better measure to reduce the fertility rate than population control laws. “When women are more educated and aware, population growth will be reduced,” Kumar said. Other Indian states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have seen reducing fertility rates by improving literacy.
Uttar Pradesh also has low family planning coverage compared to the rest of the country. According to one estimate, the state represents 25% of total unmet need for family planning all over India. In 2015-2016, one in six married women in Uttar Pradesh lacked access to contraception and risked an unwanted pregnancy. Improving access to family planning could help lower the state’s fertility rate.
More than the punitive Population Control Bill, improving access to family planning and education for women in Uttar Pradesh could better help Chief Minister Adityanath to “open up the path to happiness and prosperity in the life of every citizen”.