The Assam government announced the draft State Population Policy 2017 which proposes making education free for all girls up to university level. The policy also suggests that people with more than two children will be ineligible for government jobs and polling in local elections.

The Assam Kaziranga University admissions

The draft policy states that, “every family in Assam should have access to quality education, healthcare and employment opportunities”. However, the policy disputes its own positive action by proposing adoption of a coercive approach to promote the advantages of a small family.

“The Government of Assam needs to focus on enabling measures to improve women’s education, health care and access to contraception. It is only these measures that have worked in any developing country to reduce population growth. Coercive measures can backfire as we have seen in China where the sex ratio has skewed due to the one child policy which the government had to ease up now,” said Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agrawal.

It proposes to make people with more than two children ineligible for government employment, electoral participation in panchayat and municipal elections. Additionally, it also suggests introduction of minimum educational qualification criteria for the contesting candidates.

“Research in states that have enacted similar polices like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Haryana have shown that disqualification of candidates on basis of the number of children, has led to the desertion of families, unsafe abortions, giving away of children and initiation of new marriages by male elected members. Women have been reported to doubly bear the brunt of this disqualification clause. It is also a violation of the basic right of every citizen to participate in the democratic process,” Agrawal said.

As per the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4), Total Fertility Rate (TFR) (children per woman) of Assam is now at par with that of all India at 2.2. With reducing TFR, population is moving towards stabilisation in the state. In education on the other hand, the state is lagging behind. Only about a quarter of women (26.2%) (15-49 years) have 10 or more years of schooling as against 35.7% for all India (NFHS-4).

According to the Sample Registration System (July 2011-13), the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) in Assam of 300 per 1 lakh live births is the highest in the country, the corresponding national number being 167. The state registers a very high infant mortality rate (48 per 1000 live births in Assam as against 41 all India) and under-5 mortality rates (56 in Assam as against 50 all India). Sex ratio at birth has reduced from 1033 in 2005-06 to 929 in 2015-16. The proposed two-child policy is likely to further skew the ratio unfavourably as also seen in the case of China.

The use of any modern method of contraception in Assam has increased from 27% in 2005-06 (NFHS 3) to 38.4% in 2015-16 (NFHS 4), though the total unmet need for family planning has also slightly increased from 12.2 in 2005-06 to 14.2 in 2015-16.

“The disincentives that Assam intends to put in place for people having more than two children are regressive and would disproportionately impact the most disadvantaged. Communities with higher fertility rates, which are usually the poorer ones, will be most impacted by such exclusionary measures. We hope the Assam government will reconsider its policy,” Agrawal said.

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