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Population is About People

A.K. Shiva Kumar

By Ragini Sen
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 324, Rs. 640.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

A rapidly rising population in any society can potentially exert severe pressures on the environment, on social and physical infrastructure, and on public services essential for decent living. Particularly in a context of resource constraints, very high rates of population growth can adversely affect even the carrying capacity of the planet. When India’s population crossed a billion, it caused unnecessary alarm and anxiety among many. There is no ‘population bomb’ waiting to explode. Recent demographic data confirm a slowing down in India’s population growth rates across all states; and some 8 states and Union Territories have already reached a Total Fertility Rate of 2.1—the natural replacement rate. At the same time, however, it is also true that in several states and regions within India women have no choice and little control over fertility decisions. As a result, they end up bearing more children than they desire. Understanding and analysing the absence of choice and freedoms to exercise that choice are fundamental to the formulation of effective population policies and programmatic interventions. Reducing birth rates and fertility require a deeper understanding of human poverty and deprivation, women’s autonomy and freedom to make choices, child survival and family decision making processes and provisioning of and access to reproductive health services. These vital aspects of the population question are seldom explored in any depth by alarmists who believe that ‘population control’ is the best solution.   Sen’s book We the Billion examines several dimensions of the population question. How can India move rapidly forward to achieve population stabilization? This is the central issue that she addresses in her book. Experts discussing approaches to population stabilization fall into two categories. In the first category are those who advocate strict laws limiting the number of children a family can have, enforcing penalties and adopting coercive measures to reduce birth rates. In the second and undoubtedly sensible category are those who advocate humane approaches to population stabilization. Such approaches tend to recognize the dignity of human beings, women in particular, and rely on empowering women, promoting education, expanding the reach of reproductive health services, meeting unmet need for contraception, raising the age at marriage, improving birth spacing and enhancing child survival. It is a relief to see that Sen belongs to the second camp of those who promote cooperation and empowerment, not legislation and coercion to lower fertility rates.   Population is about people, not ...

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