Population Issues

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Context: India is set to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country by the middle of 2023, according to data released by the United Nations. The report says that contrary to the alarm bells about exploding numbers, population trends everywhere point to slower growth and ageing societies.

Factors that determine population growth

  • Infant mortality: Empirical correlations suggest that High IMR level leads to greater desire for children. Ex: IMR is the lowest at 15 in Kerala and the highest at 73 in Uttar Pradesh. 
  • Early marriage increases likelihood of more children.
  • Level of education: Fertility usually declines with increase in education levels of women.
  • Use of contraceptives: According to NFHS III (2005-06), only 56% of currently married women use some method of family planning in India.
  • Son-meta preference: Phenomena where parents continue to produce children until the desired number of sons are born is another reason for high birth rates
  • Economic factors: Industrialisation accompanied by Urbanisation had implications for fertility decline. 
    • The family lost its function as an economic unit, in the sense that it ceased to be a producing unit and became only a consumer unit. With the introduction of laws which prohibited child labour and making of education compulsory, the economic usefulness of children to their parents was drastically reduced. In fact, they became a liability because of the increasing costs and lengthening duration of education. At the same time, there were declines in mortality, especially infant and child mortality; more children survived and the burden of binging them up fell entirely on the nuclear family. 
    • provision of old-age security, etc., which were originally shouldered by the family, were taken over by the State in many countries; children, therefore, were no longer the only source of old-age security.
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Determinants of population change

A commonly accepted theory defines 4 clear Stages of population growth:

  • Stage 1: Typically seen in less developed countries where birth rates are high but a large number of people die of preventable causes leading to a stable population. 
  • Stage 2: Death rates fall steeply as deaths from preventable causes are reduced by better food supply and improved public health, but birth rates remain high due to high fertility, poor social development and limited access 10 health and contraceptive services. This often leads to a spurt in population. 
  • Stage 3: Birth rates fall but population continues to grow because there are a large number of people in the reproductive age group due to the high fertility of the previous generations. (Population growth momentum)
  • Stage 4: Countries achieve a stable population once again with low birth and low death rates but at a higher level of social and economic development. Population is stable but higher than in stage one. 

This transition from a stable population with high mortality and high fertility to a stable population with low mortality and low fertility is called demographic transition. India is currently at the third stage, with some of the States and Union territories already into stage 4. 

The National Population Policy (NPP), 2000 adapted by the Government of India states that ‘the long-term objective is to achieve a stable population. In this context, let us look into the relevance of existing National Population Policy.

Focus of the Existing population policy

Population control was the major focus of the National population policy unveiled in 2000. 

  • The immediate objective of the NPP 2000 is to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure, and health personnel, and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care. 
  • The medium-term objective is to bring the TFR to replacement levels by 2010, through vigorous implementation of inter-sectoral operational strategies. 
  • The long-term objective is to achieve a stable population by 2045, at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.

However, with changing demographic trends there is a need to change the focus of the population policy.

Need for shift of focus of National population policy

  • TFR reduced: As per NFHS 5, the country’s overall fertility fell below the replacement level of two children per woman. (TFR below 2.1). The present population growth is due to “population momentum” — population continue to grow because there are large number of people in the reproductive age group due to high fertility rate of the previous generations. India is going to achieve stable population within a few decades even without active focus on population control.
  • Ageing population: According to a report by the Ministry of Statistics in 2018, the number of citizens over the age of 60 jumped 35.5 per cent, from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011. This is an all-time high since 1950, and is almost twice the rate at which the overall population grew. In the same period (2001-2011), India’s overall population grew by 17.7 per cent. This shows that ageing will emerge as a key social challenge in the future.

In this context, active focus on population control will prove to be counter-productive. India can learn from China’s failed experience of enforcing Stringent population control measures, that resulted in ageing population and shrinking workforce. 

  • Skewed sex ratio: small family norms created a high preference for male children, which impacted child sex ratio. 
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Changes needed

  • There is a need to change the discourse of population policy from population control to ensuring that the population is happy, healthy, productive to reap the benefits of Demographic dividend. 
  • It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more people older than 60 years than those below 15 years. The share of the population over the age of 60 is projected to increase from 8 per cent to nearly 20 per cent in 2050. The new population policy should focus on management of ageing population 
  • In the backdrop of declining Child sex ratio, the new population policy should actively focus on balancing the sex ratio. 
  • Though the overall fertility rate of India has come down, the demographic transition has not been uniformed across the states. Some states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu achieved replacement level of TFR much earlier than other states. So, the new population policy should take into account the variations in the demographic composition of the states. 

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