The Indian state of Assam is considering a proposal to introduce a two-child policy for all government employees. If adopted, it will become the 12th Indian state to enact such a policy and be a drastic imposition on family reproductive rights. On August 31st, the state Cabinet approved the draft proposal, which now awaits approval by state legislature.
The proposal seeks to prohibit anyone who has more than two children from being considered as a candidate for a government job or office. Persons with more than two children would be barred from running in local, municipal, or state elections or being part of government bodies and committees. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Assam’s highest legislative body, would be able to be removed from office upon the birth of a third child.
Assam Finance, Planning and Development, Health, and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, a high-ranking MLA and Cabinet member, is largely responsible for the proposal:
“Assam is facing a dangerous population explosion, and this is one of the several measures we have proposed in the draft population policy,”
Yet, his reasoning simply isn’t true. While several districts bordering Bangladesh and along the Brahmaputra River have seen a large influx of migrants in recent years, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), Assam’s total fertility rate is 2.2 children per woman, which sits slightly below the replacement fertility rate for India as a whole (2.6 for the period 2015-220), according to the most recent data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
In fact, Assam has mirrored the national trend of decline in fertility in the last decade. The state has seen a fall in the total fertility rate from 2.4 in 2005-06 to 2.2 in 2015-16, while the all India rate dropped from 2.7 in 2005-06 to 2.2 in 2015-16, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16.
The two-child policy would not only affect government employees. It would also tie development aid, government benefits and government-subsidized local credit lending to population targets and quotas. Rural health care workers active would also be provided with “incentives” to “encourage adoption of family planning and spacing methods by eligible couples.” “Districts will be judged and awarded performance award [sic] with grants on effective implementation of this policy,” the draft proposal reads. This is very similar to how the one-child policy was enforced in China, and led to numerous atrocities.
According to The Population Research Institute, the setting of quotas or targets to meet population goals is a violation of the international consensus agreed to by 179 nations in the Program of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo which stated:
“demographic goals, while legitimately the subject of government development strategies, should not be imposed on family-planning providers in the form of targets or quotas for the recruitment of clients.”
The ICPD firmly established that family planning programs must be free of coercion and must allow couples to freely decide for themselves their fertility goals without the threat of government interference.
The state should not seek to forcibly control family size, something every family has the right to decide for themselves. Moreover, such policies result in trauma for women. For instance, in other Indian states the policies have encouraged some men to abandon their wives when they have exceeded their birth quota, and forced women to resort to abortion to retain eligibility for jobs. Studies have also shown that states where two-child policies are implemented see an increase in sex-selective abortion among upper-caste women.
Alaka Basu, a demography expert and professor at Cornell University’s Department of Development Sociology also told The Wire that Indian migrants, who already live at the margins of society, could be persecuted under the policy because of their higher fertility and subjected to coercive birth control in the name of ‘patriotism’.