July 25, 2021

Proposed Population Control Legislation Violation of Human Rights

WOMEN'S groups and networks, health experts and concerned individuals from civil society, on July 19, have submitted a memorandum to the President of India, through an email, raising concerns and opposing the draft Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021.

The draft bill has been developed by the State Law Commission. The provisions include barring persons with more than two children from contesting municipal and panchayat elections, disqualifying from government jobs, disincentives in education, health and other social security spheres.

The memorandum, which was also sent to the governor of Uttar Pradesh, chairperson, Rajya Sabha, speaker, Lok Sabha and the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission expressed dismay over the draft bill, and called it a violation of human rights.

The letter, signed by women, women's organisations, health networks, academics, health and legal rights activists, and concerned individuals, expressed dismay and concern over the proposed draft, which forms part of its population policy 2021-2030. The draft bill was made public on July 11, 2021.

The letter said the proposed bill is a violation of reproductive health and rights, which are considered basic human rights of women. These rights have been well defined and duly recognised within varied International Human Rights Commitments that India is a signatory to, as well as the national policy level processes in the country to advance India’s compliance to reproductive rights of women.

Reproductive rights are well defined in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Programme of Action (POA) in Cairo- declaration was adopted by 179 countries including India.

As per the Programme of Action, reproductive rights are defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so,” the letter said.

The National Population Policy, 2000, adopted by India under the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which committed the government to a target-free approach based on informed and voluntary choice of citizens was on the same lines.

It is well understood since then how ‘two-child norm’ or any such restrictive policies are coercive in nature and work against the development agendas and goals set for the nation to achieve both nationally and internationally. The UP government, with a complete lack of understanding of this, takes us a step back by proposing this rejected, anti-development, anti-women, and coercive approach in the form of the proposed Bill.

This Bill is also in violation of the declaration adopted at the conclusion of a colloquium on population policy, organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2003). The Declaration explicitly recognised the two-child norm as a violation of human rights.

As recently as December 2020, in an ongoing petition in the Supreme Court, the MoHFW stated in its affidavit (in response to a petition) that "the Ministry will not implement a mandatory two-child policy by denying government jobs and subsidies and has reportedly remarked in it that Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development 1994 (ICPD) to which India is a signatory is unequivocally against coercion.  The MoHFW pointed out that there is a decline in India's total fertility rate as per NFHS 4.

Evidence in the past has clearly shown how such a norm is discriminatory and threatens people’s civic-political rights to participate in electoral democracy. It also poses tremendous barriers to accessing reproductive health information, care, and the benefits of social welfare particularly for women.

Some states, after implementing such a policy, have also withdrawn the ‘two-child norm’ such as Madhya Pradesh (MP) in 2004. Many studies have also shown that any enforcement of the two-child norm on panchayat representatives had encouraged sex selection, increase discrimination against the girl child and worsened the already declining sex ratio, given the strong son-preference in the society.

It is critical to understand that the recent references to “population explosion” and the need to ‘‘control” completely ignore the robust evidence that the total fertility rate (TFR) in the country is already down to 2.2 in 2015-16, marginally above the 2.1 replacement rate in almost 24 states.
The Desired Fertility Rate is 1.8, which also indicates that women in India prefer to have no more than two children. Further, the census data also showed that the decadal growth rate during 2001-2011 had reduced to 17.7 per cent from 21.5 per cent over 1901-2001.

The letter added that the Bill builds up a situation for people to not register their marriages, limits the identity of women and their reproductive rights expressions within marriages alone and defines women only in relationship to a ‘man’ within a marriage. It fails to answer questions like what happens when a woman face situations of childbirth outside marriages, or what if it is an outcome of an unwanted pregnancy from a sexual assault.

Section 15 of the Bill includes a terribly pejorative almost eugenic rationale where the Bill says that if couples have one or two children who “suffer” from disability, they can have more children and will not be seen to contravene the two-child norm. Notwithstanding the other contentious provisions in the Bill, this section seeks to invoke an ableist mindset and tends to view the disabled as equivalent to being dead, which is atrocious and unacceptable.

The signatories unequivocally opposed the proposed Bill, and called it extremely-anti poor and anti-women, as they adversely affect both the democratic rights and reproductive choices of women, who are at the receiving end.

The timing of the Uttar Pradesh Population Control, Stabilisation and Welfare Bill, 2021 reflects the insensitivity of the state government towards the concerns of the people and the dismissal of lived realities. The ongoing pandemic has led to social and economic devastation in the form of loss of lives and livelihoods, hunger, escalation of domestic violence, etc. The proposed Bill will further exacerbate these experiences through its proposed conditionalities and disincentives by depriving the people of rations, health care, education, employment, etc., creating deeper deprivation, loss of health and lives. Hence, this Bill must be immediately withdrawn.

The statement has been signed by  All India Democratic Women’s Association, Sama - Resource Group for Women and Health, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Saheli, Women’s Resource Centre, National Federation For Indian Women, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, All India Dalit MahilaAdhikar Manch, Population Foundation of India, former health secretary Sujatha Rao, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, along many others. Altogether around 140 individuals and organisations signed the statement.