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Small families sans the snip and cut

In October this year, earth will officially get its 7th billion inhabitant, just 12 short years after the 6-billion population mark was reached.

health and fitness Updated: Jul 09, 2011 22:54 IST
Sanchita Sharma

In October this year, earth will officially get its 7th billion inhabitant, just 12 short years after the 6-billion population mark was reached. To put the uncontrolled births over the past decade into perspective, you need to know that the world's population was 1.6 billion a 100 years ago.

Demographers insist that in all probability, the 7th-billion birthday bash will take place in an Uttar Pradesh village. The reason for this projection, explains Carl Haub, the Conrad Taeuber Chair of Population Information at the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau, is that the highest number of babies in the world are born in India, Uttar Pradesh is its most populous state, and, worldwide, 105 boys are born for every 100 girl, unless sex-selective abortion artificially changes the sex ratio at birth.

The baby's birth will not be a proud moment for India's population-stabilisation efforts, but the good news is that the country's on the right track. Contrary to the impression given by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's intrepid statements on promoting late-night television programming as a contraceptive option, India's focus on promoting rather than forcing a two-child norm is showing some results.

The total fertility rate - the number of children a woman has in her lifetime, which should ideally be 2.1 to keep the population where it is - is 2.6, down from 3.2 in 1998. Fourteen states have achieved the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 - at 1.7, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done even better - but some laggards are keeping the average up. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have total fertility rates of 3.9 and 3.8 respectively, and between them, account for 30% of the population. Simply put, one in three people in India live in the two states when they are not migrating to other states in search of work.

Instead of a coercive one-child policy like China's, what's worked for India is offering people a basket of choices that include contraception options and better healthcare. It's well established that people have fewer children if they know their children are likely to survive into adulthood and beyond.

Initiatives such as fixing one day of the week for sterilisation procedures in village clinics and offering free contraceptives at your doorstep through healthworkers have made it possible for couples to choose not to have a baby without getting sterilised.

Despite the great demand for contraceptives among the young , the demand for sterilisation remains high enough to make unlikely heroes. One such worthy is Indore's Dr Lalit Mohan Pant, who holds the world record for sterilising 816 people in one day. In a career spanning 30 years, he has done 2.75 lakh sterlisations on men and women, doing 27,588 in 2010 alone! Speedy Pant, however, has called it quits this month to concentrate on teaching other aspirants to snip better and faster.

Linking population stabilisation to healthcare - free drugs, diagnostics, hospital stay, and transport to the hospital and back home for pregnant women - with special attention to 264 districts that are inaccessible, backward and under-served in 21 states, has lowered childbirth-related complications and deaths. Women opting for the Janani Suraksha Yojana shot up from 7.39 lakh in 2005-06 to over one crore in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

This is the decade that will decide whether India will go the sub-Saharan Africa way where the average is six or more children per women, or stabilise population growth like Thailand, where the birth rate is 1.8.