Friday, 28 February 2014

Crime in India and unwanted fertility

Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

“Population growth fueled by unwanted fertility and resource deprivation are important predictors of crime in a jurisdiction".

Crime and crime rates, as measured by official statistics, have not been static. Explaining why changes occur is not simple. There is growing evidence that social and economic factors, such as poverty, unemployment and income disparity, are correlated with crime.[1] I, however,  strongly believe the population growth fueled by unwanted fertility is one of the most important predictors influencing the amount and nature of crimes committed. Crime is present in many forms in India, and it would not be wrong even if we say it is present in all forms be it drug trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, robbery, extortion, murder, poaching or nefarious activities like rape, kidnapping, molestation, sexual harassment, etc.[2] However, the steep rise in crime statistic in the last two decades  is a cause for alarm. Crime leaves deep scars in the society; therefore we need to study the patterns and causes of crimes to identify remedial measures and policy interventions to contain crimes. The post aims in this direction.

The selected crime-head-wise incidence, reported by the National Crime Records Bureau for the period 1991-2011 along with percentage variation in 2011 over 1991, is presented in Table 1.  It is apparent that the incidence of the total reported cognizable crimes under IPC increased by 39% during the last twenty years, however, and increase in crime against women is much more, as shown in the table. The growth rate of crimes against women is more than two times (90%) that of the total crimes committed in the corresponding period. Earlier, many cases were not registered due to the social stigma attached to rape and molestation cases, although experts agree that the cases of unreported sexual assault are still much higher.

Table 1: Incidence of cognizable Crimes under IPC, 1981-2011
% change in 2011 over 1991

Reported cognizable crimes  under IPC
Crime against women
kidnapping & abduction
Sexual harassment
Source:  National Crime Records Bureau,  Government of India

Recent year saw several gruesome cases of rape and assault on women; they shocked not only the country but the world as a whole. Of the total number of crimes against women reported in 2011, more than three-fourths related to kidnapping & abduction, molestation and sexual harassment. First two types of crimes increased more than 80% in the last twenty years. However, rape is the fasted growing crime in India, with registered rape cases increased from 10410 in 1991 to 24206 in 2011, that is by 133%. Sources show that rape cases in India have more than doubled between 1997 and 2011. The latest figures released by the Rajasthan State Crime Records Bureau (2013) reveals that nearly 15 women are being sexually harassed, while nine cases of rape are being registered everyday in Rajasthan. A huge increase has been reported in the number of rape cases despite a nationwide cry over the crimes against women in the wake of the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape case in Delhi in the last month of 2012. The rape cases in Rajasthan increased by 60% in 2013 compared to 2012.

The statistics of increasing violence against women tell their own story. In 2011 alone, there were 24,206 registered cases of rape of which 2,579 were registered in the 89 cities. There were as many as 51, 538 cases of molestation and sexual harassment of which around 25 per cent took place in cities. Thus a majority of rape and sexual harassment victims are from the villages and small towns, of whom substantial numbers are poorer sections of women and children who live and work in insecure environments.

The National Crime Records Bureau in its report has stated that people under the age group of 16-25 have been responsible for 56% of crimes committed in the country, and their involvement has increased significantly in recent years. The youth crime harms communities, creates a culture of fear. The reason needs to be found out: Is it due to unemployment or excessive freedom that prevails in our society? Is the frustration alone forcing people towards crime? Is the deteriorating governance pushing youth towards crime?  It is true that there are many factors that affected the level of reported crime in an area or jurisdiction. Viewed in this way, crime is a dependent variable, i.e., it is dependent on all the other factors that might give rise to crime in a jurisdiction. Among various factors, it is well established that the volume of crime within a jurisdiction is highly correlated with the population characteristics such as change in size and density or its demographic and socioeconomic makeup. [3]  In this context the role of unwanted fertility (defined as actual fertility in excess of desired fertility) has not been given due importance in understanding the crime scenario in a jurisdiction.

The crimes are more in some states of India as compared to others, as shown in Table 2. In 2012, for example, the high rate of kidnapping & abduction of women and girls was reported by the northern states of Rajasthan (8.15 per 100,000 females), Uttar Pradesh (8.14) and Bihar (7.9) while states of Kerala (1.2) and Andhra Pradesh recorded very low crime rates.  In facts, the kidnapping & abduction rate in Rajasthan was 6.7 times that of Kerala and 2.5 times that of Andhra Pradesh located in the southern India. The table also indicates that wherever the population growth (col. 4) and unwanted fertility (col.5) are low, and female literacy (col.6) is high the incidence of crime against women is also low.

Table 2: Incidence of kidnapping & abduction of women and girls during 2012 and other information, selected states
Kidnapping & Abduction
Selected population characteristics

% decadal  population growth (2001-11)
Number  of unwanted births  per woman (2005-06)
% of females literate  (2011)

Rate of crime per 100,000 females


Uttar Pradesh



Tamil Nadu

Andhra Pradesh


Sources: Crime in India 2012 Statistics, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Census of India 2011 and national Family Health Survey (2005-06).

The rising crime wave has raised many disturbing questions. Is India’s social system crumbling? Are the youngsters really more crime-prone than they have been in the past?  What then is the solution? The solution lies in focusing on certain policy issues.  In this context the role of population characteristics like unwanted fertility has not been given due importance in analyzing the crime scenario in India. Therefore, an understanding the exact nature of the relationship between these two variables may be helpful to policy makers and criminologists who sometimes must make responsible comparisons of jurisdictional crime rates.

One has to recognize that population is an important factor in understanding the crime scenario in India. India’s population has grown from 846 million in 1991 to 1210 million in 2011 that is by 43% in last twenty years,  and is still growing by around 17 to 18 million every year. The population growth is mainly fuelled by unwanted fertility. More than four in ten pregnancies are unintended/unplanned or unwanted by the women who experience them and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth. According to estimates in the National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06), 21% of all births to currently married women during the five years between 2001 and 2006 were unplanned or unintended; 11% were reported by the parents as having never been wanted. Only one percent of first births were never wanted, but nearly 30% of all fourth or higher order births were so reported. In theory, this incidence of unwanted births implies that nearly 6 million births occurring in 2005-06 would never have occurred had the complete availability of perfect fertility control permitted couples to realize their preferences. And these estimates are all conservative. Also, the level of unwanted fertility could be measured by comparing the total wanted (desired) fertility rate with the total (actual) fertility rate (TFR). A comparison of the TFR with the total wanted fertility rate indicates the level of unwanted fertility. The unwanted fertility for India as a whole was   30% of actual or total fertility recoded by the NFHS-3. It means around 218 million persons of the total population in the young age group 0-35 years in India were the product of unwanted childbearing in 2005-06. Unwanted fertility is highest among those whose levels of education and income are lowest. The level of unwanted fertility in India has increased significantly from 22% in 1992-93 to 30% in 2005-06, indicating decreasing control over reproductive process.[4]

Not all unwanted births become unwanted children. Many, perhaps most, are eventually accepted and loved indistinguishably from earlier births that were deliberately planned. But many are not; and the costs to them, to their siblings and parents, and to society at urge are considerable, though not easy to measure. The costs are not only financial. The social, health, and psychological costs must be enormous, as noted by the Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future.[5]  As a result, the consequences of unwanted fertility are serious, slowing down the process of socio-economic development. It is because unwanted childbearing results in poor physical growth, reduced school performance, diminished   concentration in daily tasks thus impacting work capacity and work output resulting in diminished earning capacity. The impact of this is reflected in widespread malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and weak governance.[6]  And all these contribute to distressingly high and unacceptable level of crime, and in fact, that is happening in India in recent years.

There are several reasons behind unwanted childbearing, but most important one is related to the imperfect control over the reproductive process.  So letting women have the means to manage their childbearing will help to make India a more stable and equal place as well as less prone to crime. Key to this approach should be to provide quality reproductive health services with contraceptive choices. When women have access to contraception appropriate to their needs, desires, and budgets, the potential benefits are many, including reduced maternal and child mortality as well as lesser number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies. In addition to its health benefits, family planning allows families and communities to invest more in education and health care and helps reduce poverty as well as crimes. Children by choice not by chance could be another effective way to reduce incidence crimes especially against women.

In early sixties, the United Stares of America adopted the similar strategy to reduce the incidence of crimes. A book that has had a large and rapid sale, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner, establishes the effect of legalized abortion on crime.[7] They argue that since children who are unwanted or whose parents cannot care for them well are more likely to become criminals and that an inverse correlation is observed between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime. Moreover, children born under these conditions are usually less fortunate. It is argued and proved  that the legalization of abortion in the  United  States of America, largely due to the Supreme Court's decision in  Roe v. Wade, , has reduced crime in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Also, the 1972 Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future is one of the better known early versions of this claim. The Commission cited research stating that the children of women denied an abortion “turned out to have been registered more often with psychiatric services, engaged in more antisocial and criminal behavior, and have been more dependent on public assistance”. Opponents generally reject these statistics and observations, and argue that abortion has negative effects on society or decrease in crime is brought about in other ways.[8]

We, therefore, strongly believe that all couples in India, regardless of age, or income, should be enabled to avoid unwanted births. Major efforts should be made to enlarge and improve the opportunity for individuals to control their own fertility, aiming toward the development of a basic ethical principle that only wanted children are brought into the world.  In other words, we   recommend a national policy and voluntary program to reduce unwanted fertility, to improve the outcome of pregnancy, and to improve the health of children. So our immediate agenda must be to revamp the family planning programme.[9] In addition, more money needs to be poured into quality education and towards creating more opportunities for the poor and the young.[10] Though there are so many laws against rape, molestation and other forms of sexual harassment in India, sexual assaults continue with immunity. India needs more convictions. Hope, the comprehensive criminal law reforms suggested by the Justice Verma Committee and approved by the Parliament will provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. 

[1] Refer: “Population Trends and Crime: What should we be planning for?” Fact Sheet 13, July 1999, a publication of the John Howard Society of Ontario.

[2] Crime in India 2012 Statistics, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

[3] For details, see: James J. Nolan.  “Establishing the statistical relationship between population size and UCR crime rate: Its impact and implications”. Journal of Criminal Justice 32 (2004) 547 – 555.

[4] Kothari Devendra. 2011. Implications of Emerging Demographic Scenario: Based on the Provisional Results of Census of India 2011, A Brief, a publication of Management Institute of Population and Development, Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi. Also see: Kothari, Devendra. 2013.  “Managing unwanted fertility in India: Way forward”, a paper is prepared for the National Conference on National Rural Health Mission: A Review of Past Performance and Future Directions, organized by the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi , August 6-8, 2013.

[5] As observed by the Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future. Refer at:

[6] Kothari Devendra. 2012. “Empowering Women in India through better Reproductive Healthcare”, in Sheel Sharma and Angella Atwaru Ateri (eds.) Empowering Women through Better HealthCare and Nutrition in Developing Countries, New Delhi: Regency Publications.

[7] Refer: Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. 2005. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, William Morrow.

[8] For details, refer: “Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births”, by John R. Lott Jr.and John E. Whitley Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 254, 2001. 

[9] Kothari Devendra and Sudha Tewari. 2009. Slowing Population Growth in India: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward. MIPD Policy Brief No. 2, Management Institute of Population and Development, (Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi).

[10] Refer post by author: School education in India needs intensive care, not a quick fix at: