International organisations have for long advocated the need to perceive reproductive rights through the prism of human rights. While a rights-based approach to the subject does not yet exist, various international conferences even in the distant past have time and again referred to family planning, and reproductive health and rights as human rights issues. The International Conference on Human Rights held in Tehran in 1968, for instance, stated that “parents have a basic human right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children” (UN 1968: 4). A number of subsequent international summits upheld similar views. This underscores the possibilities of leveraging human rights instruments to address the exigencies of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights sector in the developing world, starting with recognising the critical link between reproductive rights and women’s empowerment.
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, out of the total 5.29 lakh pregnancy-related deaths recorded world over, (almost every fifth woman is from India) 1.36 lakh occur in India; a woman dies every five minutes in child birth or during pregnancy in India and deaths are most likely among very young and in places where there is little access to quality of care for mothers. Family planning in such circumstances saves lives.
Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change and The National Coordinator of the White Ribbon Alliance said, “It has been observed the world over that access and use of modern family planning methods in developing countries is one of the most cost effective public health interventions to improving overall health of women and survival of their children. Contraceptive use is also shown to improve child survival through optimal child spacing, lengthening birth intervals and improved maternal mortality rate. It is hence important to promote family planning to take care of young and older mothers by empowering them to use quality maternal healthcare facilities and postpartum care where education and access to contraception choices are available.”
It is a couple’s right to choose the number of kids they want if they desire to become parents. According to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV data, the unmet need is 12.9 and this contributes to undesired fertility due to lack of access. Addressing this will bring more couples into the gamut of contraceptive choices and reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies in the country. Data has shown that increasing one contraceptive method in an existing basket of choice has resulted in an 8 to 12 per cent increase in the use of modern contraceptives. Providing couples access and choice to quality family planning in developing countries has a direct positive impact on indicators of maternal mortality, infant mortality and women’s empowerment.
“Lack of access to family planning jeopardises the health of the mother and subsequently that of her child – this results in increasing rates of maternal and infant mortality. The implication of this is an unhealthy population that poses impediments to the progress and development we can achieve as a nation. This year the theme is ‘Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations.’ Family planning is a tool that can empower people by preventing the vicious cycle of unplanned and unhealthy families that is counteractive to economic growth,” said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, The Population Foundation of India.
Family planning is also extremely cost-effective and has shown radical improvements in other developing nations like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A study has shown that every dollar that is invested in family planning saves 4 dollars in other health and development expenditure including maternal health, immunisation, education and water and sanitation. It empowers women and gives them the opportunity to realise their full potential through education and livelihood and enables them to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
On World Population Day this year, India will be represented by World Population Foundation of India, in London at the Family Planning Summit. The Foundation is at the forefront of policy advocacy and research on population issues in the country. The FP2020 goals will be reviewed and discussed to ensure that more women and girls are provided universal access to quality family planning services and are able to plan their families and future.
The CSR Journal Team