General Studies Paper 1

Context: The State of World Population Report, 2023 by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) was recently released.

About the Report

  • The State of World Population report is UNFPA’s annual flagship publication.
  • It has been published yearly since 1978.
  • It shines a light on emerging issues in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, bringing them into the mainstream and exploring the challenges and opportunities they present for international development.

Report highlights

  • Population data:
    • India Overtaking China:
      • India is set to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country by the middle of 2023, according to data released by the United Nations.
      • India’s population is pegged to reach 86 crore against China’s 142.57 crore.
        • This shows India will have 29 lakh more people than China.
  • Globally:
    • The world’s population hit the 800-crore mark in November 2022.
    • Just eight countries will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050-
      • The Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania
    • Two-thirds of people now live in a country where lifetime fertility corresponds with zero growth.
    • The United States is a distant third, with an estimated population of 34 crore.
  • Slowing of population growth:
    • The report says that contrary to the alarm bells about exploding numbers, population trends everywhere point to slower growth and ageing societies.

Addressing changing demographies

  • Caution against family planning:
    • The report called for a radical rethink on how countries address changing demographics and cautioned against use of family planning as a tool for achieving fertility targets.
    • It warned that global experience showed that family planning targets can lead to gender-based discrimination and harmful practices such as prenatal sex determination leading to sex-selective abortion.
  • Policy framing:
    • The report strongly recommended that governments introduce policies with gender equality and rights at their heart, such as
      • Parental leave programmes,
      • Child tax credits,
      • Policies that promote gender equality in the workplace, and
      • Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
    • For India:
      • Opportunity:
        • With close to 50% of its population below the age of 25India has a time-bound opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividend, and that it must convert this into “economic benefits through additional investments in health, education, and quality jobs for young people — including targeted investments in women and girls.”
      • India’s population anxieties:
        • There have been increasing calls for imposing a two-child norm in India by various political leaders, and some States such as Assam have issued an order in 2021 to bar those with more than two children from government jobs, the UN agency said its findings for India too had suggested that “population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public”.
      • Cautionary: 
        • Imposition of such targets can lead to imbalanced sex ratios, preferential health and nutrition for male children, denial of the paternity of female children, violence against women for giving birth to girl children, and coercion of women to have fewer or greater numbers of children.

Challenges for India

  • Delayed Census
    • An authoritative assessment of India’s current population has been hampered by an intriguing delay in carrying out the Census 2021 exercise & the government is yet to reveal its plans for Census 2021.
    • The Census exercise produces basic input data for all sorts of indicators used for planning and policy implementation.
    • In the absence of reliable indicators, based on solid numbers from the Census, the quality of these decisions could suffer.
  • Focus on key areas:
    • A population of more than 1.4 billion will require the unflinching focus of policymakers on areas fundamental to human well-being — education, nutrition, healthcare, housing, and employment.
  • Productivity and economy:
    • The youth will have to be equipped with skills that are indispensable to the knowledge economy.
    • People’s productivity will have to increase for any given per capita income.
    • Will need policies to increase jobs so that labour force participation rate increases for both men and women.
  • Climate change:
    • The climate crisis and other ecological imperatives will mean that the footprints of many activities are kept light.
  • Democratic challenges:
    • Most importantly, the challenges will spur debate, discussion, even dissension, and require that diverse voices are heard.
    • India’s democratic traditions and the strength of its institutions will be needed to navigate the way forward from here.
  • State-wise focus:
    • Much more needs to be done on this, of course, in large parts of the country, including in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, whose TFR is higher than the national average and where gender discrimination has deep social roots.
  • Choice to women:
    • To actually realise Population Control, educating women and giving them freedom to make choice and implement it, should be first to have attention by the Government.
    • State must ensure contraceptives are accessible, affordable and available in a range of forms acceptable to those using them.

Way ahead

  • India has a window of opportunity well into the 2040s for reaping its “demographic dividend”, like China did from the late 1980s until up to 2015.
  • However, this is entirely contingent upon the creation of meaningful employment opportunities for a young population— in the absence of which, the demographic dividend can well turn into a demographic nightmare.
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