Some time in October this year, a boy born in an Uttar Pradesh (UP) village will be the 7th billion human on earth. Some skeptics argue that any one of the thousands born every second around the world can be ‘Baby 7 Billion’, but most demographers insist that the gender and place are right.
“Selecting ‘Baby 7 Billion’ is simply based upon probability. India has the most annual births in the world, Uttar Pradesh the most in India and, worldwide, there about 105 boy babies to every 100 girl babies, unless sex-selective abortion artificially changes the sex ratio at birth. Picking rural UP is an extension of that logic since the state is predominately rural,” Dr Carl Haub, Conrad Taeuber Chair of Population Information at the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau, told HT.
Humanity has expanded exponentially over the last decade. One billion people have been added to the earth since 1999, when the world’s population touched 6 billion. Just a century ago, it was 1.6 billion, which is a little more than China’s population of 1.34 billion today.
Birth of a nation
The largest number of babies are born in India each year — 27 million, roughly one in five of all global births — increasing the country’s population by more than 350 million in a decade, compared to China’s population rise by 210 million in the same period. China’s one-child policy has halved the number of births to 16 million each year.
India does not just have the diversity of a continent but also the population of several countries. Of the 7 billion people in the world, 1.225 billion live in India, making it home to 17.5% of humanity that will overtake China’s population by 2025. UP alone is home to almost 200 million, which makes it more populated than Brazil, the sixth most populous country in the world. Maharashtra’s population equals Mexico’s, Orissa’s the same as Argentina’s, and even tiny Kerala’s 33 million is more than Canada’s 32 million, shows UN Population Prospects data. India’s population crossed 1 billion in 2000 and now stands at 1.22 billion, second to China’s 1.34 billion, which will be pushed to second place in 2025.
Right on track
With a population stabilisation policy that focuses on advocating rather than forcing a two-child norm to bring down total fertility rate — the total number of children a woman has in her lifetime, which should ideally be 2.1 to keep the population where it is — progress has been slow, but steady, in India. Currently, the total fertility rate is 2.6, down from 3.2 in 1998.
Even though 14 states have achieved replacement fertility rate of 2.1 — Kerala and Tamil Nadu have already achieved targets of 1.7 — the laggards are keeping the average up. Bihar and UP have total fertility rates of 3.9 and 3.8 respectively — the two most populous states account for 30 per cent of the country’s population. Simply put, one in three people in India live in the two states.
The grand plan is to persuade people to have fewer children by offering health services to ensure their child survives till old age and contraceptive choices to plan pregnancies. The problem is that apart from sterilisation, few contraception services such as the pill, intrauterine devices, injectible contraceptives etc are reaching women who need it.
With more than 50% of the country’s population in the reproductive age of 15-49 years, India needs to ensure the 69.1% people not using contraceptives start doing it now.
“India is on course and has recorded dramatic declines in fertility. But it’s a tightrope as we do not want to reverse the decline at the expense of skewed child sex ratios or an ageing population, as has happened in China,” says Ena Singh, United Nations Population Fund assistant country representative to India. Singh cites the South Korea success, where population was stabilised by giving more autonomy to women such as allowing them to carry the family name forward, and working together with the medical community to stop sex-selective abortions and maintain gender balance.
Already, sex-selective foeticide by son-obsessed families has led to a shortage of women in many Asian countries. India alone has lost 10 million girls to foeticide in the past decade. By 2025, China will have 96 million men in their 20s and only 80 million women, while India will have 126 million men for 115 million women.
There’s hope for stability. Populations in developed countries has stagnated, with some — like Germany, with 1.4 children births per woman and South Korea 1.2 — even recording negative growth. Most of Asia is on track. The problem region remains Sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rate remains six or more children per women, pushing more people into poverty.
By 2050, demographers expect global population to grow by 50% and then stabilise at about 10.1 billion in 2100. It can be lower, depending on how efficiently countries manage birth rates.