Childlessness among married couples in India is on the rise.
According to a study done by the International Institute for Population Sciences International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, childlessness among Indian couples has risen by 50 per cent in the 20-year period from 1981 to 2001.
The researchers have pinned the rising incidence of childlessness to growing infertility and not because couples are choosing not to have children.
A working paper on the comprehensive IIPS study will be published next month. IIPS researchers analysed data from the census for 1981, 1991 and 2001 as well as the National Family Health Surveys to assess the levels of childlessness. They found that while four per cent of married/separated women, aged 35 to 49, in 1981 had never had a child, the figure rose to six per cent in 2001. This means that nearly 51 lakh women in that age bracket had been struggling with childlessness in 2001.
The fact that more illiterate women (6.2 per cent) were childless compared to educated women (5.62 per cent) and that the levels of childlessness were similar in rural and urban areas, made it apparent that childlessness was not voluntary.
“The number of empowered women who opt to not have children is still negligible. So, we can safely conclude that childlessness is because either the women or their spouses were infertile,” said principal researcher, Dr Usha Ram.
Considering scientists in the west have found that two per cent infertility is inevitable in any population, India’s 2001 record of six per cent is three times higher than the expected level.
According to the IIPS study, Tamil Nadu fared the worst among Indian states with almost 11 per cent of married women being childless and Haryana the best with only 2.52 per cent childlessness compared to the national average of 6.3 percent. Chennai, Hyderabad and Chandel district in Manipur could be considered the ‘infertility hubs’ with one in five (nearly 20 per cent) women being childless.
Ram considers infertility an “emerging public health problem”.
“The Indian government has been focusing only on family planning. What about infertile couples? Don’t they have a right to have a child?” she asked.
Independent expert, Dr Alka Barua, who heads the Foundation for Research in Health Systems, concurred. “India has been a signatory to a global population and development programme, which states that reproductive health services should include infertility treatment. It is high time to act on this,” she said.