Sunday, 31 March 2013

Relevance of Two-Child Norm in emerging demographic scenario of India (Part I)

Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst,
Forum for Population Action

The Two-Child Norm concept originates from a rich history of population control efforts and overall concern about the relationship between population growth and resource exhaustion, as advocated by Thomas Robert Malthus, British economist, in his 1798 classic writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population. He argued that how unchecked population  growth is exponential   (1248) while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical (1234). Many critics believe that the basis of Malthusian theory has been fundamentally discredited in the years since the publication of the Essay, often citing major advances in agricultural techniques and modern reductions in human fertility. Many modern proponents (Neo-Malthusianism), however,   believe that the basic concept of population growth eventually outstripping resources is still fundamentally valid, and "positive checks" are still likely in humanity's future if there is no action to curb population growth. The post discusses the relevance of the concept Two-Child Norm in emerging demographic scenario of India.

Shortly after independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, argued in favor of “family limitation…. to promote the health and welfare of the people and development of the national economy”.[1] Nehru believed that that a smaller population would mean better living conditions for the masses. In 1952, India became the first country in the world to launch a national programme, emphasizing family planning to the extent necessary for reducing birth rates "to stabilize the population at a level consistent with the requirement of national economy”.[2] The program received 100% funding from the central government. The success of the family planning agenda was so dear to the heart of the Government of India that even a separate department coined as Department of Family Planning was carved out in the Ministry of Health in the year 1966.[3] This was done with an objective to reinforce the population control program. Further, the National Health Policy of 1983 emphasized the need for “securing the small family norm”, and stated that replacement levels of total fertility rate (TFR) that is 2.1 children per woman (or NRR 1)  should be achieved by the year 2000 to initiate  the process of population stabilization. [4]

In spite of these steps, sharp declines in death rates were, however, not accompanied by a similar drop in birth rates. India witnessed rapid fall in death rare from 25.1 in 1951 to 9.8 in 1991 and less steep decline in the birth rate from 40.8 in 1951 to 29.5 in 1991. The population of India, which was only around 361.1 million in 1951 increased by more than 2.4 times   in a period of 40 years to reach 846.4 million in 1991. The virtual stagnation in India’s population growth at high level during seventies and eighties (average annual growth rate hovering around 2.2%) was perceived by many as a failure of India’s family planning program, urgently requiring stringent measures. [5] In 1991, the National Development Council (NDC) appointed a Committee on Population under chairmanship of Sri. Karunakaran.  The Two-Child Norm (TCN) was recommended by the Committee in order to move India towards its goal of replacement level fertility by 2010. The Committee also recommended that any representative serving from the Panchayati Raj to the Parliament would lose their seat if they had more than two children while serving in office. The Karunakaran Report was endorsed by NDC in 1993, but  it was not discussed by the Indian parliament.

In 1993, the Indian Parliament passed the 73rd amendment of the Constitution that declared Panchayats as institutions of self government at the village level. In 1994, the States of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa and Rajasthan were the first few States to introduce the TCN in Panchayats. Madhya Pradesh and Himachal introduced the norm in 2000. Maharashtra introduced it in 2003.  The provision of TCN was introduced in the Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 by inserting a specific section and amending the act by introducing a cut off date for implementation. For example, section 19(I) of the Panchayat Act of Rajasthan debars and disqualifies a person to be a member of a panchayat if he/she has more than two living children, one of whom is born on or after November 27, 1995. The number of children produced before the cut-off date is immaterial and the law is not applicable to such a case. It was realized that given the small number of elected representatives, imposing such a norm on them was most unlikely to bring a reduction in the fertility level of the State as a whole. However, the justification for this was sought in the underlying rationale that community members would perceive the elected representatives as “role models” and control their fertility.  The TCN was later introduced in the national as well as state- specific Population Policies of several states.

The four states of Andhra Pradesh (1997), Rajasthan (December 1999), Madhya Pradesh (January 2000), and Uttar Pradesh (July 2000), which recorded relatively high rates of population growth during 1971-91, drafted their population policies in the 1990s with the assistance of Futures Group International.  They set goals to lower fertility to replacement level in the shortest span of 4 to 16 years.

The announcement of the National Population Policy 2000 by the Government of India  in February 2000 and setting up of a National Population Commission, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee and comprising eminent persons from all walks of life on May 11, 2000 reflected the deep commitment of the government to population stabilization program. 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.

It is argued by some activists and experts that TCN as a policy prescription by government is not at all in the national interest. It distorts and subverts democracy, fundamental rights and is disempowering, particularly of women, the poor and the marginalized. Further, it exasperates and accentuates skewed child sex-ratio in general and sex ratio at birth in particular.[6] In addition, there is opposition to the provision of two-child norm in population policy in India by NGOs. [7]  Some researchers hailed the measure as  an innovative one.[8]

 To be concluded…

[1] Connelly, M. 2006. “Population Control in India: Prologue to the Emergency Period.” Population and Development Review 32 (4) 629-667. Also see: Claire B. Cole, 2009. Responding to the Two-Child Norm: Barriers and Opportunities in the Campaign to Combat Target-Oriented Population Policies in the Post-ICPD India.  A collaborative Study by the Centre for Health and Social Justice and the Community- oriented Public Health Practice Program at the University Of Washington School Of Public Health.

[2] GoI. 2000. National Populati0n Policy 2000, MoHFW, Government of India.

[3] It was largely dictated by global pressures and the field realities in India.

[4] The National Health Policy was endorsed by the Parliament of India  in 1983 and updated in 2002. None of the health impact goals set in NHP 1983 were achieved by 2000..

[5] Visaria Leela, Akash Acharya, Francis Raj.  Two-Child Norm Victimising the Vulnerable?.  Economic and Political Weekly January 7, 2006.

[6] For detail, see: Gwatkin, D. 1975. Political Will and Family Planning: The Implications of India's Emergency Experience. Population and Development Review.  Vol.  5, (10. PP 29-59; Buch, Nirmala. 2005.  Law of Two-child Norm in Panchayats: Implications, Consequences and Experiences, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 40, (24), June 11, pp 2421-29; Pandey, S, (ed). 2006. Coercion Versus Empowerment. New Delhi: Human Rights Law Network.

[7]  For example, see publications of the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), a health research and advocacy group based in New Delhi which currently serves as the Secretariat to the National Coalition Against the Two-Child Norm.

[8] Chaturvedi, Adesh, Anoop Khanna, Devendra Kothari. 2002: ‘Provision of Two-child Norm in Panchayat Raj Act of Rajasthan: A Critical Review of Impact and Perception’, Indian Journal of Social Development, Vol  2 (1), June, pp 111-23.

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