Kolkata: India has inched closer to achieving replacement level of fertility with a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.3 as per Sample Registration System, Office of Registrar General, India, 2011-13. Though India’s decadal growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54% in 1991-2000 to 17.64% in 2001-11, the country needs to do much more to promote reproductive rights of girls and women, which is critical for sustainable development. Family planning must be included as a specific objective in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) so that population programmes in India and other countries with high population growth can contribute effectively to improved health outcomes for women and children.
Despite commendable progress in a number of areas by India, significant inequalities continue to persist in women’s access to education, healthcare, physical and financial resources and opportunities in economic, social and cultural spheres. As the Indian Government negotiates for a new set of SDGs for its post-2015 development agenda, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) is hopeful that reproductive health and family planning will be given due recognition in the final line-up of the goals and targets later this year. It may be noted that the Millennium Development Goals too incorporated family planning and sexual and reproductive health much later after effective engagement with key stakeholders, globally.
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India says, “India is at a critical juncture where it has the extraordinary opportunity to channelize the potential of its girls and women to catapult itself into a new trajectory of development. Programs that educate them to influence their health and consequently their overall wellbeing are an absolute priority. Together with education, family planning and honouring reproductive rights of women are one of the best investments towards their empowerment. Though girls and women have made great strides in many spheres with noteworthy progress in reducing the gender gap, a deeply unequal sharing of the burden of adversities between men and women continues to persist. The post 2015 SDGs present the perfect opportunity for the central and state governments to recommit to the cause of woman and child health.”
As India’s population policy shifts its focus from population stabilization to ensuring reproductive rights and empowering women, the key focus needs to be on people and not numbers. The country needs to strengthen and implement its policies effectively to fulfill the reproductive needs and rights of women so that every mother is a healthy mother and every child is a ‘wanted’ child.
India’s family planning programme overtly focuses on sterilization while the greatest need is to provide young people with comprehensive sexuality education and a broader contraceptive choice beyond female sterilization, male sterilization, IUCD, oral contraceptives, and condoms. Other countries in the region such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have seven contraceptive methods available, including injectables and implants, in contrast to only five in India.
As per Census 2011, women constitute 48% of India’s population. The country accounts for a fairly large share of youth population (one-fifth). The adolescent population (10-19) is 253.2 million (20.9% of total population). Of these, 119.8 million are girls, constituting 47.3% of the adolescent population. The size of the youth (15-24) population is 231.9 million (19.2% of total population). Of these, 110.3 million are females, constituting 47.6% of youth population. Close to half the women are in the reproductive age group. As a result, India may take several decades to stabilize its population and the one way to check the population momentum is by delaying age at first pregnancy and by spacing subsequent births by two to four years.