Context:

A coalition of civil society groups engaged in reproductive health has said Assam’s move to adopt a two-child policy for availing benefits under government schemes will hurt the poorest besides hindering the development goals of the State.

Relevance:

GS-I: Indian Society (Population and Associated Issues), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Two-Child Policy?
  2. Present status of two-child policies in India
  3. About Assam’s Policy
  4. About the ARC’s views on Assam’s Policies
  5. Two-Child Policy in Indian States
  6. Pointers from the NFHS-5 regarding population control
  7. Criticisms related to two- child policy:

What is the Two-Child Policy?

  • The two-child policy is a state-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children.
  • A two-child policy has previously been used in several countries including Iran, Singapore, and Vietnam.
  • In British Hong Kong in the 1970s, citizens were also highly encouraged to have two children as a limit (although it was not mandated by law), and it was used as part of the region’s family planning strategies.
  • Since 2016, it has been re-implemented in China replacing the country’s previous one-child policy.

Present status of two-child policies in India

  • There is no national policy mandating two children per family.
  • A parliamentarian had tabled a Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2019 on the matter, proposing incentives for smaller families.
  • PM in 2019 had appealed to the country that population control was a form of patriotism.
  • Months later, the NITI Aayog called various stakeholders for a national-level consultation on the issue, which was subsequently cancelled following media glare on it.
  • In 2020, the PM spoke about a likely decision on revising the age of marriage for women, which many stakeholders view as an indirect attempt at controlling the population size.

About Assam’s Policy

  • Assam Chief Minister said that barring the tea plantation workers, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, people with more than two children would gradually not be able to avail benefits under specific schemes funded by the State.
  • This will be in addition to the amendment made in 2018 to the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, which requires a two-child norm along with minimum educational qualifications and functional sanitary toilets for contesting the rural polls.
  • It was critical that policy objectives catered to population stabilisation, enabling families, especially women, to exercise choices about having children.

About Assam’s Population

  • Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Assam is 1.9, which is less than the national average of 2.2. Data from the NFHS-5 shows that 77% of the currently married women and 63% of men aged 15-49 years in Assam want no more children, are already sterilised or have a spouse who is already sterilized.
  • More than 82% of women and 79% of men consider the ideal family size to be two or fewer children and 11% of currently married women in Assam have an unmet need for family planning.

About the ARC’s views on Assam’s Policies

  • Recently, the ARC said that instead of imposing stringent population control measures, it would be far more effective for Assam to focus on delaying the age of marriage, improving spacing between children, and ensuring girls stay in schools.
  • The State also needed to invest in improving access to family planning services and expand the basket of contraceptive choices, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, which were critical in view of the large population of adolescents and youth, the coalition advised.

Two-Child Policy in Indian States

  • Maharashtra: Maharashtra is one of the few states in the country that have a ‘two children’ policy for appointment in government jobs or even for the elections of some local government bodies. The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads And Panchayat Samitis Act disqualifies people who have more than two children from contesting local body elections (gram panchayats to municipal corporations). The Maharashtra Civil Services (Declaration of Small Family) Rules, 2005 states that a person having more than two children is disqualified from holding a post in the state government. Women with more than two children are also not allowed to benefit from the Public Distribution System.
  • Rajasthan: For government jobs, candidates who have more than two children are not eligible for appointment. The Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act 1994 says that if a person has more than two children, he will be disqualified from contesting election as a panch or a member. However, the previous BJP government relaxed the two-child norm in case of a disabled child.
  • Madhya Pradesh: The state follows the two-child norm since 2001. Under Madhya Pradesh Civil Services (General Condition of Services) Rules, if the third child was born on or after January 26, 2001, one becomes ineligible for government service. The rule also applies to higher judicial services.
  • Telangana and Andhra Pradesh: Under Section 19 (3) read with Sections 156 (2) and 184 (2) of Telangana Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, a person with more than two children shall be disqualified from contesting election. However, if a person had more than two children before May 30, 1994, he or she will not be disqualified.
  • Gujarat: In 2005, the government amended the Gujarat Local Authorities Act. The amendment disqualifies anyone with more than two children from contesting elections for bodies of local self-governance — panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations.
  • Uttarakhand: The state government had decided to bar people with more than two children from contesting panchayat elections and had passed a Bill in Vidhan Sabha in this regard. But the decision was challenged in the High Court by those preparing for village pradhan and gram panchayat ward member elections, and they got relief from the court. Hence, the condition of two-child norm was applied to only those who contested the elections of zila panchayat and blocks development committee membership.
  • Karnataka: The Karnataka (Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj) Act, 1993 does not bar individuals with more than two children from contesting elections to local bodies like the gram panchayat. The law, however, says that a person is ineligible to contest “if he does not have a sanitary latrine for the use of the members of his family”.
  • Odisha: The Odisha Zilla Parishad Act bars those individuals with more than two children from contesting.
  • Assam: The Assam government announced in 2019 that people who have more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs, with effect from 1 January 2021.

Pointers from the NFHS-5 regarding population control

  • The latest data from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) provides evidences of:
    1. An uptake in the use of modern contraceptives in rural and urban areas
    2. An improvement in family planning demands being met
    3. A decline in the average number of children borne by a woman
  • The analysis of the data by the international non-profit Population Council (PC) shows that the Total Fertility Rate (number of children born per woman) has decreased across 14 out of 17 States and is either at 2.1 children per woman or less.
  • This also implies that most States have attained replacement level fertility, i.e., the average number of children born per woman at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next.
  • While during NFHS-3 and NFHS-4, conducted between 2005 and 2016, there was a decline in the use of modern methods of contraception (oral pills, condoms, intra-uterine device) across 12 of 22 States and UTs, in NFHS-5 as many as 11 out of 12 States where there was a slump have witnessed an increase in their use.
  • The indicator to gauge the demand met for contraception has also increased — only five States had more than 75% demand being met in NFHS-4, but now 10 States are able to cater to the demand for family planning by up to 75%.
  • The top performers here are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana.

Criticisms related to two- child policy:

  • Critics argue that the population growth of India will slow down naturally as the country grows richer and becomes more educated.
  • There are already well-documented problems with China’s one-child policy, namely the gender imbalance resulting from a strong preference for boys and millions of undocumented children who were born to parents that already had their one child.
  • By interfering with the birth rate, India faces a future with severe negative population growth, a serious problem that most developed countries are trying to reverse. With negative population growth, the number of old people receiving social services is larger than the young tax base that is paying for the social services.
  • The law related may also be anti-women. Human rights activists argue that the law discriminate against women right from birth (through abortion or infanticide of female fetuses and babies).
  • A legal restriction to two children could force couples to go for sex-selective abortions as there are only two ‘attempts’.

-Source: The Hindu

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