By Srishti Chauhan:
The very basis of economics is the idea that resources are limited and therefore the problem of choice arises. Solar power is unlimited. No wonder nobody fights over it. Food is extremely limited and hence the resultant scarcity.
Like all resources- ranging from your income to water availability- the resources that a nation possess are also extremely limited. With this binding limitation, what must a country do to ensure that resources are not exploited to the extent that they are exhausted? The first and the most effective idea is to control population. Lesser the number of people vying for a particular service, lesser is the scarcity. This idea has apparently been recognized by the government as the need of the hour. That probably is the reason why we see numerous advertisements in Delhi metro and DTC buses that claim that a small family is a happy family.
However, the government seems to be preaching something different from what it is practicing. In rural, semi-rural and minimally urbanized areas, the government has adopted a system of healthcare that is working in just the opposite direction. For eachÂ cesareanÂ section that a woman undergoes in a government hospital, she is paid Rs. 1500 (amount various slightly from state to state) and for each delivery she is paid Rs. 800-1000. What is this if not an incentive to increase the family size?
Instead of mandatory sterilization of women post 2 children, the state seems to be focused on gentle persuasion- which obviously doesn’t seem to be working. Free availability of contraceptives costs the government fortunes every year. Should a government already buried beneath massive debts not care about where it spends its money?
The government has created Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in small towns and villages. These are government employees who are paid to bring pregnant women to government hospitals for delivery. What is meant to be its purpose is hardly ever implemented in practice. The same applies to these officers. These women, in practice, promote the expansion of family. Moreover, they take the patients to privately owned hospitals where they are paid a commission of Rs. 700-1000 per delivery. This practice,Â meant to increase awareness about healthcare and sanitation, has actually been a propellant to the population explosion that India faces.
In China, besides the forceful ban on more than one child per couple, the government has adopted methods to promote people to willingly stick only to one child. People with a single child are offered benefits ranging from priority for housing, healthcare and education to higher pensions on retirement. This promotes certain percentage of the educated class to stick to the one child policy. In India, on the other hand, people with more kids are given grants for their education and ‘welfare’. This encourages the people to have more kids and enjoy the benefits of social securities. Again, an excellent example of the government push in the direction opposite to the required one.
In India, what the government needs to realize is that the number of children in a family is greatly dependent upon the religion, the region and the extent of education. A uniform approach to control the number of children for all 3 will not work efficiently. In the rustic regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, people are often goaded to produce more children in the name of religion. They are threatened with the idea that their future generations will end up being dominated by the other religions if they are not in majority. Similarly, there are religions where it is considered that aborting a child is a sinful practice. A child is considered to be God’s gift- an event that cannot be controlled naturally.
What the government needs to focus is on changing the mind-set of the rigid religious fanatics and make them realize how having a big family need not be the best idea. Most families in extreme states of poverty are driven to produce more kids because of the thinking that more kids mean more earning members in the family. The point that needs to be ingrained in the minds of these people is that more kids does ALSO mean more mouths to feed.
The government is lacking diversity in its strategy. Any attempt by the government to enlighten the people about the benefits of a small family is overshadowed by regional, communal and societal pressure. The need of the hour is to change the strategy from persuasive to binding. It is high time the government takes concrete steps to bridge the gap between the preaching and the practicing.