-Geeta Sundar

July 11th is marked annually as the World Population Day. It is a day that wishes to create awareness and observation on many global population issues – like, the importance of family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and human rights and especially the implications on the environment. The day was commemorated in 1989 by the United Nations when the world humans had reached a stellar five billion in 1987 on July 11th.

This year’s theme is – “Family Planning is a Human Right”. The theme resonates another milestone – it has been 50 years since the International Conference on Human Rights held in 1986, when it was first acclaimed that family planning was a human right. The conference concluded with a ‘Teheran Proclamation’, stating that – “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.”

Reading the fine print and understanding the importance of this legislative document led to an astonishing revelation – Women and girls have the right to avoid the exhaustive, depletive and dangerous path of multiple pregnancies at close intervals. Men and women have the right to choose when and how often to embrace parenthood — if at all. Every individual has the human right to determine their involvement in starting a family, if at all and when to or even how many to plan; making it a fundamental right.

The Conference also adopted Resolution XVIII, titled “Human Rights Aspects of Family Planning,” which connects this right to “the dignity and worth of the human person,” and notes the relationship between access to family planning and the status of women.

Having said this, the UN defines nine standards to uphold this human right.

Non-discrimination: Family planning information and services cannot be restricted on the basis of race, sex, language, religion, political affiliation, national origin, age, economic status, place of residence, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Available: Countries must ensure that family planning commodities and services are accessible to everyone.
Accessible: Countries must ensure that family planning commodities and services are accessible to everyone.
Acceptable: Contraceptive services and information must be provided in a dignified manner, respecting both modern medical ethics and the cultures of those being accommodated.
Good quality: Family planning information must be clearly communicated and scientifically accurate.
Informed decision-making: Every person must be empowered to make reproductive choices with full autonomy, free of pressure, coercion or misrepresentation.
Privacy and confidentiality: All individuals must enjoy the right to privacy when seeking family planning information and services.
Participation: Countries have an obligation to ensure the active and informed participation of individuals in decisions that affect them, including health issues.
Accountability: Health systems, education systems, leaders and policymakers must be accountable to the people they serve in all efforts to realize the human right to family planning.

But looking at the statistics, there is a giant trench staring at us. The current world population sits at 7.6 billion, with China, India and the United States being the three most populous countries. UN has already established that in the next six years, by 2024, India is going replace China as the most populous country in the world.

For a country like India, what is the next step? What is the status of the anti-population drive the country is trying to implement? What are the failsafe options?

Sterilisation has remained the mainstay of India’s family planning initiatives. Temporary methods are often used by the modern urban couples, but are not easily accepted and used by the other sections of the society. India has had the highest number of infant and child deaths, and malnourished children in the last few years. But the fact that escapes our notice is the 2.6 crore babies that are added every year in this country! The TFR – total fertility rate – the average number of children expected to be born to a woman in the reproductive age span of 15-49 years – is 3 in India, as compared to the national average of 2.2 in 2015-16.

 

Last year, as part of its latest national family planning initiative, the government launched Mission Parivar Vikas, that hopes to deal with family planning as a social issue rather than just a health issue.The initiative also incorporates a component called ‘Saas BahuSammelans’ aimed at improving communication between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. New Contraceptive Choices, New Family Planning Media Campaign, Scheme for ASHAs to ensure spacing in births, etc are also other schemes in place to aid family planning.

Despite these measures, the population isn’t decreasing, even though there may be dips in the national average of the TFR when observed, or decrease in teenage marriages and a more blooming awareness of family planning options. What India needs is a more economically, socially driven executive plan to control its population, one that will take years to show results – increasing the minimum age of marriage, women education and empowerment, advocating adoption and divorce, enhancing access to resources, assurance of free will, media and publicity propagation and to say the least, development of self-sufficiency.

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