States should not put a cap on family size | HT Editorial
The idea of “control” appeals to our politicians. So it is no surprise that Uttar Pradesh (UP) is planning a new population policy to control numbers and deny welfare benefits to those with more than two children. Other states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh too have instituted schemes to de-incentivise people with more than two children, including barring them from entering the state service and standing for panchayat elections. But this is to deny people the right of choice with regard to the size of their families. The national population policy does not contain any incentives or disincentives and should be a template for the states. Disincentives will hurt the poor and marginalised the most. The preference for sons has led, according to the Economic Survey 2018, to 21 million unwanted girls. If a two-child norm is imposed, women will become more vulnerable to forcible sterilisations and sex selection. Instead of restrictions, the State must increase the scope of reversible contraceptive choices and provide better health services to people.
The family planning programme could be made more effective if it were to involve more men, and also focus on men. In a patriarchal society, it is men who decide the family size. Most workers in the family planning outreach are women and they find it difficult to address men on the need for contraception. If there were more male health workers, this could change. The southern states have been successful because they have focused on maternal and child health, which has translated into healthier mothers and fewer pregnancies. States should make health care accessible through primary health centres. The Centre must undertake advocacy programmes on the benefits of having a smaller family for the individual. The government should concentrate on taking care of people, in which case population will take care of itself, as the southern states demonstrate.