Population Growth in India: Need to Kill Population Momentum

GoodpalStarred Page By Goodpal, 25th May 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/ain0hrbn/
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The real cause of continued population growth in India is population momentum. There are just too many people in the reproductive age group who are contributing about 18 million people per year. The solution is to stop all child marriages and encourage delaying of pregnancies and spacing further births. All that, basically, implies women empowerment.

Current Population Scenario

The current population of India is about 1.25 billion and is growing at the rate of about 1.5% per year – hence, adding about 18 million people annually. Though the rate of growth is low and is still falling but the sheer numbers are enough to scare people, particularly those in the “developed” world which has historically lived in Malthusian fear of overpopulation. The reason why so many children are still born in India is that over 50% of the Indian population is in the reproductive age (Young India!). This is the impetus behind the population growth and not that people are making too many babies; in fact, the average family size is small and is shrinking. Fifty years ago, the average fertility per woman was 5, today it is half of that and still falling. It is expected that by 2030 the average children per woman would fall below the replacement fertility level of 2.1 from the current about 2.6. That means India’s population would stabilize by around 2060 at about 1.65 billion – until then the slow growth would continue. Once the peak is reached then no more population growth; in fact it would begin to shrink slowly.

The 2011 census data show that there is decline in the birthrate throughout the country, although the decline is not uniform but the demographic transition is taking place in different parts of the country at different pace. An analysis of 621 districts showed that in 190 districts (representing 31% of the population) the birthrate has already gone below the replacement level of 2.1; in 192 districts it is in the range 2.2 – 3.0 and should go down below the replacement level by 2021; and in 239 districts the birthrate is still over 3.0 despite significant drop from the last census 10 years ago. As development take place, the rate of fall in fertility would pick up.

The awareness of the importance of small family size is a widespread phenomenon now across the whole country. Despite that if the birthrates are still high in some pockets it is largely due to poor knowledge and access to the contraceptive options and medical care facilities, particularly in the rural areas of some most populous states.

The Role of Population Momentum

Demographer John Bongaart has predicted in the 1990s that in the 21st century over half of the population growth in the developing countries would come from population momentum – too many people in the child bearing age. The remedy for reducing population growth lies in postponing pregnancies rather than sterilization which has been the traditional prescription for population control. Bongaart also estimated that if the average age of women at the first birth is raise by 2.5 years, it would reduce population momentum by 20%. For India, experts variously estimate that between 60 to 75 percent population growth is due to momentum alone (too many young people).

Population policy planners still somehow seem to miss this important contributor to current population growth, hence their typical clinical remedy (sterilizing people) is not effective. However, new developments have taken place since the National Rural Health Mission was launched in 2005 under the National Health Mission. Now the awareness of reproductive health is increasing in the rural areas.

In fact, the solution to population momentum is not clinical, but enhanced awareness of the reproductive health and postponing all pregnancies, which means actions at the social level. The remedy to check population momentum is two fold: First, delay age at first birth (means preventing child marriages – a deep rotted social tradition in many parts of the country) and second, delay further births, by say 2-4 years.

Let us see how that can be done, but first an overview of global and Indian scenarios.

Global Adolescent Pregnancy Scenario

Adolescent pregnancy is a serious issue in the developing countries, not only from population momentum angle but also from the health angle. According to the UNFPA, there are over 600 million girls in the world today (2013), of which 500 million are in the developing countries. About 16 million girls in the age group, 15 – 19, give birth each year; 3.2 million undergo an unsafe abortion and about 90 percent of the pregnant adolescent in the developing countries are married. 95% of the world’s births to adolescents occur in the developing countries.

According to the State of the World Population 2013 report by UNFPA, every day 20,000 (or 7.3 million per year) girls below 18 give birth in developing countries. Of these births, 2 million births are from under 15 girls. About 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die annually of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – these are high risk pregnancies.

Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health or fertility issue, it is a social development issue. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights. To bring these issues to global attention, the 2013’s World Population Day on July 11 focused on Adolescent Pregnancy.

Theme of the past World Population Day

As the above list shows, the rising population is just a result of weaker status of women and girls and thus, points to the direction of efforts.

Adolescent Pregnancies in India

Recently, the National Commission for Women reported that the prevalence of child marriage is still "alarming" in India. In some large states like Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar around 65 – 70 percent girls are married below the legal age of 18. Looking at the nation level, about 46% of young women marry before the legal age and 63% by 20 years. According to UNICEF, 15 percent of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13; and 52 percent of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19.

According to a Oct 2013 UN report, in India, along with Bangladesh, a girl is extremely likely to be married before she is 18, and have a child while still a teenager. Every year, four million Indian girls aged 15-19 give birth. In 2010, the birth rate per 1000 among girls between 15 and 19 in India was 76, compared with 49 worldwide and average 53 for less developed countries. In comparison, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka these rates were 16 and 24, respectively – they are doing better than India. Bihar is the worst state for child marriages, where over 70% marriages take place before the girl is 18, as per a survey in 2007-08. The situation may be only marginally better now.

Adolescent pregnancies account for 16% of all births in India and 9% of maternal deaths. 30% of all induced abortions in India are performed on young women under 20. Last National Family Health Survey showed that 47% of girls get married in India before the age of 18.

Why such High Rates of Adolescent Pregnancies

Social cultural practices, combined with limited knowledge of family planning and the low status of girls, especially in rural India, means that girls and young women often have a child within the first year of marriage. The problem can be broken down to 2 basic issues: weak gender of women or lack of empowerment and lack of proper knowledge about conception, contraception and reproductive health.

Lack of Women Empowerment

Generally girls are in marriage when they get pregnant in the developing countries. For most girls below 18, and especially those younger than 15, pregnancies are not the result of a deliberate choice. On the contrary, they are generally the result of an absence of choices and of circumstances beyond girls’ control. These pregnancies reflect powerlessness, poverty and pressures – from partners, peers, families and communities. Quite often they are also the result of sexual violence or coercion. Girls who have little autonomy – say those in the forced marriages – have little say about whether or when they become pregnant.

Lack of Awareness of Reproductive Health

The high proportion of adolescent marriages in the developing countries is related to a low level of knowledge about reproductive health. The whole issue of how they get pregnant is not really known to many young girls so there is a low demand for contraceptives. In India, contraceptives used by young people is only 9% of the overall use so a lot needs to be done about raising awareness on the reproductive health, how different contraceptives are used, where to get them and what is good for them.

Consequences of Child Marriage

The period of adolescence should allow a gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, but a large proportion of Indian girls miss this phase and directly grow from being children to wives and mothers. This has long term negative consequences.

Early marriage robs the adolescent girl the chance of completing her education and developing herself as a young adult. Her body is not ready for child bearing and early pregnancies put her at the highest risk of maternal fatality and morbidity. Young mothers bear weaker babies, leading to intergenerational deprivations. Studies have shown that women in the age 15 – 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in twenties. Likewise, infant mortality rate for children born to mothers under 20 is about 95 (per 1000) compared with 60 (per 1000) for their older peers. Thus, early pregnancies are neither good for the mother or for the kids born to her.

The solution is to undertake a sustained public campaign against child marriages by involving local leaders, public representatives, social workers and media in these areas. Think of the impact on population growth if all pregnancies below 18 are prevented.

Women Empowerment

Most of the social ills including child marriage can be traced back to women’s significantly weaker status in the Indian society – marriage is seen as a social protection of girls when they enter puberty. While the prevalence of child marriage varies across states, gender inequality is widespread in India. It is a common practice in the rural areas where 70 of the population lives. Wherever women are education and informed the family size is small. Therefore, policy makers will do wonders if they shift their mental focus from “population control” to “women empowerment”. Education is the primary tool for empowering girls and women. It opens the way to explore their reproductive health issues and life beyond family boundaries. In fact, women empowerment is the best contraceptive!

Many people think that women empowerment is a women’s issue. It is not quite right; it is also a men’s problem. If you don’t understand how, you may explore Women Empowerment, Men’s Way.

What is Indian Government’s policy to prevent early marriages?

The policy planners appear quite serious about reducing child marriages and also providing family planning information to young people. Quite recently it put into place a program called reproductive, maternal, new born, child and adolescent health, RMNCH+A for short. Globally, it is RMNCH, but India has added the ‘A’ to it, which means a lot of the focus is on adolescent girls and boys, on nutrition and also family planning issues. Contraceptive pills and condoms are being provided at doorsteps. The impact of the scheme will be known in coming years.


The whole issue of population planning boils down to just four issues: promoting women and girls empowerment through education and other social initiatives; prevent child marriages through social and cultural initiatives; increase the availability and access to contraceptives so that unintended pregnancies are avoided and child births can be spaced, and strengthen healthcare facilities especially in the rural areas.

The ICPD has already laid out a clear strategy almost two decades ago that needs to be implemented. It also makes women and their welfare, the center of attention. Population is not a number issue but is all about development of people, particularly women and girls and their empowerment.

Reading Further

If you liked this page, you may also be interested in the following pages

Population Phobia: Has the Global Population Bomb gone Bust?
Population Development: What Kerala can Teach India and China
How to Stop the World Population from Touching 9 Billion in 2050

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Adolescent Pregnancy, Child Marriages, Girl Mothers, Population Growth In India, Population Momentum, Population Of India, Women Empowerment

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author avatar Goodpal
I am a keen practitioner of mindfulness meditation for past several years. I firmly believe in "goodness" of people, society and world. I regularly write on personal growth and social topics.

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author avatar Abhishek
11th Dec 2011 (#)

the goverment should stop child marriage

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