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Development and Population

Is population a development issue?
Yes, it is. Population is often seen as an issue of ever growing numbers of people but the fact is that growing numbers merely mirror the lack of social and economic development. Simply put, the lower the levels of socio-economic development, the greater the chances that couples in that group would have more children.

This is best seen in differences in the various States of India. For example, Uttar Pradesh has 56.3% literacy and only 14% of women receive complete antenatal care. Uttar Pradesh records an average of four children per couple, almost double the figure of two children per couple in Kerala, where almost every person is literate and every woman receives complete antenatal care and delivers in a health institution. Thus, Kerala with its advanced social development indices had reached what is called the "replacement level fertility" two decades ago while Uttar Pradesh will take another 20 years to reach that mark, as it continues to have a high fertility rate (TFR 4.4)

Can we focus on development and let population grow unchecked?
No. Since socio-economic development benefits take longer time to percolate, it is important to take steps that would improve people's access to quality health services which have a direct bearing on their reproductive health behaviour. Providing quality health services, which include contraceptive services, to those who do not wish to have children but have no access to methods of family planning (meeting the "unmet need"), would avert as many as 20% of births in India.

Reaching contraceptive services itself has three parts to it - a) counselling covering why, when and how to use a particular method, b) ensuring easy availability and accessibility of the chosen method and c) follow up care to ensure continued and trouble free use of the method.

Alongside, adolescent sexual and reproductive health services need to reach out particularly to young persons to empower them to make informed and responsible decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive behaviour, including the age at which they would like to marry and start a family. This will help the youth to the use of condoms for safe sex and other contraceptive methods for delaying the first child and for spacing subsequent pregnancies.

The goal of child nutrition must be addressed separately. The "mid-day-meal" scheme in schools has increased enrolment as well as improved the nutritional status of children. This has proved to be effective in improving child survival and reduced the desire for larger families.

Importance of education/literacy to population stabilization.
There is a clear link between education, notably woman's education, and the size of the family she will have. Women who are not literate are found to have on an average 3.74 children; this dips to 1.99 children when the parents have completed at least high school. The connection is also reflected in the performance of the States. Kerala, which has the highest literacy rate, has a total fertility rate of 1.9 against, say, Rajasthan, which has a literacy of 60.4% and total fertility rate of 3.2

So investing in literacy and education, particularly female literacy, has a direct bearing on reducing the population. This is so because the more educated a woman is, the more involved she is in decision making regarding her own health and that of her children, apart from having greater access to information and health services.

Incorrect Population Terminology
Policy makers, demographers and development groups, therefore, desist from using words like "overpopulated" and do not refer to population as "the problem".

Informed people do not use terms like "overpopulation" or "population explosion". What may be considered "overpopulation" by one group, may not be seen in the same light by others. Secondly, "overpopulation" implies that some population is redundant or unwanted and is, therefore, a burden on the system.

Such connotations are best avoided, particularly in the light of the fact that population tends to grow faster in developing countries and in the poorer segments of society. Sometimes, these very segments become a target for programmes aimed at "controlling" the so-called overpopulation, with a mindset that separates those lower down the socio-economic ladder ("them") from the more advantaged sections of society who often are part of the decision making class ("us").

However, the fact that population is increasing cannot be disputed, and there remains an urgent need to address issues related to this. The National Population Policy announced in 2000 set the "long term" objective of India achieving a stable population by 2045. However the goal was also to reach a total fertility rate of 2.1 by 2010 - a goal that eludes many states.

 

 
 
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