Tabled marriage bill in India may add to population decline

    EducationEducation for allTabled marriage bill in India may add to population...
    - Advertisment -

    Tabled marriage bill in India may add to population decline

    A bill before India’s lawmakers proposes to raise marriageable age for women to 21 years. Already India’s fertility rate has dropped below replacement level. Experts aver that jobs and educational opportunities are needed for young, unmarried women.

    By Ranjit Devraj / SciDev.Net

    India’s new bill to raise the marriageable age for women to 21 years may squeeze the country’s fertility rate, just as a national survey reveals the number of births has already dropped below replacement levels.

    The objective of the bill is to bring about gender parity, rather than reduce India’s population, now standing at 1.4 billion. However, it follows the country’s Fifth National Family Health Survey, released on 24 November, which shows that India’s fertility rate – the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime – has declined to 2.0 this year.

    - Advertisement -

    It means that, for the first time, fertility in the country is below the replacement rate of 2.1— the level at which a couple is replaced by their offspring, taking into account the risk of death, according to the UN.

    “I would like to present that women’s equality in our country needs to be seen in the age of marriage,” said Smriti Irani, India’s minister for Women and Children Development, introducing the bill in Parliament on 21 December.

    “This amendment gives equality to men and women by allowing both to marry at 21.”

    Raising women’s marrying age would help lower maternal and infant mortality rates, improve the number of female births for every 1,000 male births, and reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies, stillbirths and miscarriages, the bill says.

    However, it does not mention the potential effect that the legislation may have on fertility and reducing India’s population, the second biggest in the world after China.

    Mira Shiva, a founder member of the People’s Health Movement, a global health network, said: “Several studies have shown that deferment of marriage and childbearing is a sure way to reduce the fertility rate and bring down population numbers, though that may not be the intention of the present bill.”

    Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, a former Indian civil servant and author of The Population Myth, a book dealing with politically motivated ideas of religion and population growth, said: “The decline in fertility rate to below replacement rate is certainly an achievement, though the original target year was 2010.”

    Forced sterilisation

    India has been trying to curb population growth for decades, and state governments have been given free rein to set up their own fertility reduction programmes, including contraception and focusing on birth spacing, the time between each birth, with the central government providing the bulk of the funding for actual implementation.

    Several major Indian states have passed laws aimed at restricting family size to two children. In July this year, India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, with 241 million people, tabled a bill in the assembly to make those with more than two children ineligible for government employment, following the example of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Some states also ban those who violate the two-child norm from contesting local elections.

    Fertility reduction, through contraception, has been a policy objective since the 1950s. However, forced sterilisations were resorted to during the 1975—1977 national emergency, a period of political unrest.

    In 2000, a National Population Policy set a goal of reducing the total fertility rate to replacement level by 2010 and achieving a stable population by 2045 “at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental protection”.

    Quraishi said it was commendable that the sex ratio at birth had risen to 1,020 girls for every 1,000 boys — given the widespread practice of sex selection and female foeticides in India. “It is almost unbelievable that this ratio has been achieved and I do hope that they got the figures right,” he said.

    Quraishi, however, said raising the legal age to 21 for women to marry will likely “end up criminalising many more young people”.

    Underground marriages

    A statement released by the Population Foundation of India, a non-profit, said: “Increasing the legal age at marriage would perhaps accomplish little more than pushing more marriages underground as has been the practice in the past.”

    According to Shiva the bill ignores the fact that for most women in India marriages and childbirth occur in the 18—21 age bracket. She points to the Fourth National Family Healthy Survey which showed that 27 per cent of Indian women in the 20—24 age group were married before the legal age of 18.

    Shiva said the government would need to provide incentives to encourage girls to complete their education and find jobs if the stated objectives of the bill are to be realised.

    “As things stand, the prospects for girls extending their education and finding decent employment are dim — most working women in India are employed in the informal sector, where conditions are exploitative,” she said.

    According to projections in the UN’s World Population Prospects – 2019, India’s population may surpass China’s by 2027 due to ‘population momentum’, a phenomenon caused by a high proportion of people in a population being in the reproductive age group.

    In May, China announced it will allow couples to have three children, after census data showed a steep decline in birth rates and an ageing population.

    With India’s total fertility rates steadily declining, as seen in the Fourth and Fifth National Family Health Surveys, the UN projections may need to be revised, says Shiva.

    This piece has been sourced from SciDev.Net


    Picture Copyright: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development, (CC BY 2.0). This image has been cropped.

    - Advertisement -


    1. *Have the experts quoted in the story taken into the population growth that has happened due to people staying indoors, as in the case of COVID-19 recently.*

      *This was also seen in Bosnia in the 90’s, when people were locked indoors due to the war there.
      COVID-19, or similar zoonotic diseases will recur, we are told. That might well be the case for wars as well.*

      *So, this is a question to ponder upon.*


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Latest news

    Shrinking Himalayan Glaciers Spell Trouble Downstream

    Researchers strive to better understand melting glaciers on Asian mountain peaks, the Earth’s ‘Third Pole,’ in light of devastating...

    Five Decades On, Bangladesh Debates If Its Constitution Retains the Spirit of Liberation War

    Eminent citizens from all walks of life feel that successive constitutional amendments have been made for political, personal gains...

    The Best Climate News You May Not Have Heard About

    The Montreal Protocol — designed to save the ozone layer — is also averting a dangerous amount of global...

    Why Greta Thunberg Is Wrong to Boycott COP27

    With time running out, the meeting in Egypt will mark the moment when we start to see if the...
    - Advertisement -

    Can Your Phone Tell if a Bridge is in Good Shape?

    A new study suggests mobile data collected while traveling over bridges could help evaluate their integrity. Researchers at the...

    Push to Top COP27 Agenda with Thorny Compensation Talks

    Developing countries have high expectations from the ‘Africa COP’ due next month as the COP27 president, Egypt, says loss...

    Must read

    Shrinking Himalayan Glaciers Spell Trouble Downstream

    Researchers strive to better understand melting glaciers on Asian...

    Five Decades On, Bangladesh Debates If Its Constitution Retains the Spirit of Liberation War

    Eminent citizens from all walks of life feel that...
    - Advertisement -

    More from the sectionRELATED
    Recommended to you