On 7 July 2021, the Law Commission of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, released a draft bill on population control. The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, pursuant to the 2022 elections in the state, is purported to be a draconian draft to control the population of the State. The Bill did not surprise many as people believed that it was long overdue that some measures were required to control the fast-growing population. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the policy aims to bring down the state’s birth rate to 2.1 per thousand population by 2026 and to 1.9 by 2030. Uttar Pradesh’s current fertility rate is 2.7 per thousand population.
The state is India’s most populous state with almost 200 million people – 16.5 percent of the country’s population.
A few days earlier prior to the unveiling of the new population policy, a draft population control bill was released in the public domain. The bill does two things: one, it incentivizes employees and their spouses to pursue sterilization after having two children with promotion, increments, and education for children; and two, it bars those with more than two children from applying for government jobs, seeking promotions, benefiting from government subsidies, and contesting for local body elections.
The State Law Commission received 8,500 responses on its email on the draft Bill on Population Control. Some criticized the proposed Law and some are appreciative of the steps taken by the Law Commission.
Uttar Pradesh is not the first state to adopt such a regressive policy in India. Other states like Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Odisha had also tried this population control technique wherein it was noted that such a two-child policy increased sex-selective and unsafe abortions, giving children up for adoption and men divorcing and deserting their spouse to avoid disqualification. The policy seems to be gender-blind, disproportionately impacting women and also the poor and marginalized sector of society.
Issues with The Bill
Uttar Pradesh’s women bear the burden of family planning. According to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS-4), 17.3 percent of women in Uttar Pradesh use female sterilization as their family planning method, in comparison to just 0.1 percent of male sterilizations. Female sterilizations are more unsafe and irreversible in comparison to male sterilization or use of contraceptives.
By incentivizing sterilizations as part of the UP Population Control Bill, the government is putting further onus on women for family planning. It also risks reversing the trend of increasing use of safer methods like condom use. Condoms are the second most popular method for family planning in Uttar Pradesh and twice as prevalent as the national average for India, according to the NFHS-4.
The incentivization of sterilization has come in for criticism from women’s rights organizations, health networks, and academics. “The Bill is geared to control women’s fertility rather than improving women’s health and promoting women’s reproductive rights. The proposed Bill should be deemed unconstitutional since it violates the right to equality,” people have written in a memorandum to the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind.
One of the disincentives mentioned in the Bill is the “bar on the application of government jobs”, and “bar on receiving any kind of government subsidy” for procreating more than two children. In Uttar Pradesh, where almost 32.8% of its population falls below the poverty line and in the current COVID pandemic situation where several people have lost their jobs or are being underpaid, the state government has proposed to debar such people from availing government facilities. The government seems to disentitle the state’s population relying on government subsidies and government job opportunities. These incentives and disincentives seem to be dividing individuals by making reservations based on “voluntary” sterilization in government jobs and promotion opportunities, which renders it in violation of Article 16 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the classification of individuals based on sterilization can render this Bill unconstitutional.
The harsh reality of society leads us to believe that such a two-child norm would either leave us with a gender-biased policy or an exponential growth in female feticide, unsafe abortions, abandoning girl child, or even the husband deserting his wife along with the girl child. In a 2017 case, an Indian Netball player was asked for a divorce from her husband because she gave birth to a girl child; this case is not one of a kind. It shows the unfortunate reality of our country. If the woman is pressured into undergoing sterilization after the birth of one child, in the case, the child being a female or in the case of the child losing its life, there is every probability of the woman being divorced. In a society like ours, it would be acceptable for a man to lead a normal life and marry again. However, it would be the women who would have to face an extremely uncertain future because of sterilization. This is not an exaggerated assumption. There are innumerable cases of women facing domestic violence, divorce, and death because they have only given birth to girls.
The Bill appears to have discouraged adoption culture in the state. Section 14 of the Bill shall apply to individuals having no child or one child born out of the marriage, subsequently having more than two children as a result of adoption. The outcome of the execution of the Bill may discourage adoption whilst increasing the abandonment of children. It also provides an exception to be able to have a third child in case of a disability of the first or the second child according to Section 15 of the proposed Bill, which gives an impression of non-inclusion of children born with a disability and makes this policy prejudiced on that basis under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. This selective relaxation in the policy would lead to increased atrocities against children, which is socially discouraged.
Critics have opposed this draft law on UP population control in every way possible. Its enactment will prove devastating for millions in the state who are struggling to exist in subhuman conditions. It will deal a terrible blow to women in the state who are already facing the most terrible violence, discrimination and deprivation.
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