Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Education is key to population control

Women who fell ill after undergoing sterilisation surgeries receive treatment in Bilaspur, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. AP Photo
Women who fell ill after undergoing sterilisation surgeries receive treatment in Bilaspur, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. AP Photo

The deaths of eight women in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh from botched sterilisation surgeries has put the country’s flawed population-control policy into sharp focus. As The National reported yesterday, at least 50 of 83 women who underwent the procedure had to be admitted to hospital.

This is not the first time that a government-sponsored sterilisation surgery campaign has gone terribly wrong. In 2012, three men were arrested in Bihar for operating on 53 women within two hours in a field and without the use of anaesthetic. Despite the notoriety of the family-planning drive conducted during the 1970s, when millions of men underwent vasectomies, state governments still routinely carry out one-day sterilisation campaigns – but now they target women.

The authorities say these operations are voluntary. However, those who attend these camps are mostly poor and uneducated, making them less likely to be making an informed choice. More troubling is the fact that many women feel coerced by their husbands to undergo sterilisation because of the promise of government incentives and benefits. This explains why an estimated 37 per cent of all married women in the country are sterilised. In 2011-2012 alone, the government said 4.6 million women had undergone a tubectomy.

There is little doubt that India needs to address its population explosion, but it needs to do so using a safer and more practical approach: education. Experience elsewhere shows an inverse correlation between birth rates and women’s level of education. This is demonstrated within India by Kerala – the most literate state – which has managed to keep its population stable at 34 million. By comparison, Bihar has 99 million people and that is rising faster than the national average.

Education promotes a shift from the quantity of children in favour of the quality of life. The impact of improving education will take time to filter through into birth rates but it ought to cause the Indian government to rethink its population-control strategy.

Updated: November 12, 2014 04:00 AM