What Is The Possible Gender Impact Of UP's Population Control Bill?

The UP population control bill gender impact is direct and significant since it essentially aims at guiding women's bodies towards and away from childbirth.

Tanvi Akhauri
Jul 12, 2021 16:41 IST
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UP Population Control Bill gender impact: The Uttar Pradesh government's draft of the Population Control Bill has met with polar reactions from citizens, political leaders and population experts. While one end is holding the proposal up as necessary regulation in India's most populous state, opposing voices have criticised it as an unnecessary move ahead of the crucial state elections.

The controversial draft titled Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021 released last week by the UP state law commission is inviting public suggestions for improvement till July 19. In its current state, the bill offers incentives to families with less than three children, its underlining aim touted to be population control.

The two-child norm seeks to equitably distribute the "limited ecological and economic resources at hand" and make accessible "provision of basic necessities of human life including affordable food, safe drinking water, decent housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and a secure living" to citizens in UP, as per PTI. 

If that, coupled with the proposed one-child norm with even greater incentives, comes into effect, the aim would be to bring down the total fertility rate (TFR) and thus number of births. Within family units, the UP bill, therefore, directly concerns women and other persons who can conceive.


What is TFR? 

The United Nations defines the total fertility rate as "the average number of live births a woman would have by age 50 if she were subject, throughout her life, to the age-specific &t=1s">fertility rates observed in a given year."

Though TFR is not bound by any international agreements or decrees, its direct impact on demographics, economies and development makes it a significant talking point in global progress and resource distribution.


As per data by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16, UP's TFR was at 2.7 - a drastic fall from preceding years when the data point was at or above three. This is still above India's national TFR, which has also considerably fallen and is at 2.2, close to the replacement level fertility.

The desirable replacement level fertility is understood to stand at 2.1 children per woman for countries to move from one generation to the next with exact population count. Though UP is still above that estimate, India is rather close to reaching it. And as goes dropping TFR trends in the country, experts have pointed out that a population control bill at the time is unnecessary.

What Is The Population Control Bill Gender Impact: Experts And Leaders Speak


Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India, tells Outlook, "There is no evidence to show that proposing incentives or disincentives for adherence to the two-child norm will be effective. The concern and alarm around “population explosion” are not substantiated by national or global data and there is no evidence that there is a population explosion in either India or Uttar Pradesh."

The replacement level fertility average, however, also takes into account factors like infant mortality rates (IMR). In countries with high IMR, for instance, the replacement level fertility rates will be higher. For countries like India, where the IMR (32 deaths per 1000 live births) falls neither in the higher or lower categories, the replacement average remains at 2.1, which we are close to achieving. It further consolidates the argument against the bill that Muttreja and others are raising.

Champion for the women of Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also voiced opposition to UP's controversial population draft,

#WATCH | Every state is independent to do what they want. My opinion is very clear that population control can't be attained by just making laws...When women will be educated they'll become conscious enough & fertility rate will decrease: Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

— ANI (@ANI) July 12, 2021 on Monday, "When women will be educated they'll become conscious enough and fertility rate will decrease."

While women's education is not the sole factor in deciding the course of ideal population rates - since patriarchal structures and male dominance often singularly guide family planning, with women losing agency over their own uteri - it is essentially a primary step towards making women aware as to the rightful control over their bodies.

What's more, facets of the UP government's population bill have even been strongly objected to by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) affiliate - for reasons far removed from women's agency and choice. The right-wing organisation has said the one-child policy is grounds for creating a population "imbalance" along blatantly mentioned religious lines. Read here.

Where VHP's is a vocal proclamation that suggests women's bodies are competitive baby-making machines, the alternative proposals for population control (education, awareness, equality) opposition leaders are putting forward require systemic, structural, long-term reformative work. The latter will yield gradual positive results, but if expert opinion is anything to go by and a population boom is neither real nor imminent for India currently, then perhaps that is the path to walk on into equality.

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