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Is Assam’s Two-Child Norm Implausible?

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Recently, Assam’s health minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, unveiled the draft of a new population policy for the state. It proposes, among other things, to penalise people who have more than two children. However, the Government has sought public suggestions on the draft population policy, which would be put up in the public domain, before it is finally placed in the state assembly in August. If the draft were to become law, they would be ineligible for government jobs and benefits, and be barred from contesting all elections held under the aegis of the state election commission.

The draft also suggests raising the minimum age of marriage for girls and making education free till the university level for all girl students in the state. It is currently open to inputs from the public. If it does become an Act, Assam will be the only state after Rajasthan to have a population policy of its own. The rest of the states follow the National Population Policy of 2000.

“This norm is mainly coercive in nature and coercion has never worked in India prior to this. It violates people’s rights, especially women. Even today, girls are married before 18 years of age and have no say in the number of children they want to have. This norm deprives such women of Government jobs as well. In India, we need an agency for women empowerment more than such forceful measures. In order to reduce population it is important to educate girls and increasing the minimum age for marriage,” said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation Of India while strongly expressing that the strict two-child norm is not feasible.

There were two-child norms in Panchayats in the 6 states of India, where there are evidences of the men divorcing their wives and disowning their children. Also, the Government Population Policy, 2002 is against incentives and disincentives. India has signed the draft plan of action, Cairo (the international population development conference) which totally has asked for a call to end both incentives and disincentives. This norm is violating the National Population Policy.

According to the 2011 census, eleven Muslim-dominated districts of Assam-Dhubri, Morigaon, Goalpara, Darrang, Nagaon, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Cachar and Dhemaji-have recorded abnormally high population growth rates. Dhubri’s growth rate was 24.44 per cent (all India average was 17.7 per cent), Morigaon’s was 23.34 per cent, Goalpara recorded 22.64 per cent and Darrang 22.19 per cent.

“Besides, a proposal for providing incentives is also included for poor persons, who take care of their elderly parents. The policy will also care for the adolescents. We will work for public awareness and reach out through religious leaders, NGOs, parliamentarians and media in this regard,” Sarma said.

The minister also said he will consider including a provision for giving 50% reservation to women in government jobs and elections.

“Till July, we will seek public suggestions. Then it will go to the Assembly for debate and adopting a resolution. We have to go step by step and we are in no hurry. This is the long-term thing that BJP had promised in the Vision Document,” Sarma said.

Service rules of 48 departments will have to be amended for adopting the proposed policy, he said, adding it will take at least three years and he will be happy if the policy takes the final shape by next Assembly polls in 2021.

“We want to move from primarily a medical-led policy to a socially responsible policy. We want to have a behavioural change and there will be policy incentives. Assam’s current population is 3.12 crore as per 2011 Census and it increased by one crore from 2001,” Sarma said.

(With inputs from Indian Express)

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