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Dakshina Muraleedharan
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 at 16 : 19

So, who decides how many children you should have?


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Well, Kerala had a share of this debate recently when a newly formulated Women's Code Bill was submitted to the state government. The Commission on Rights and Welfare of Women and Children was constituted on August 7, 2010, to prepare a code for the rights and responsibilities of children and women. Headed by former Supreme Court Judge V R Krishna Iyer, the commission has created quite a storm with its recommendations.

Having more than two children might prove you guilty according to certain clauses in the Bill.

IMPORTANT RECCOMENDATIONS: WOMEN'S CODE BILL

A family norm of two children is to be implemented in the footsteps of the national population policy. A ten-member commission of eminent personalities will monitor this.

In case, there is a violation of the family norm of two children, a fine of Rs 10,000 or three months' simple imprisonment can be imposed as per the discretion of the commission, but only after a resolution is passed in this regard in the state Assembly.

Those parents who violate the norms will be regarded as "legally disqualified person" and will not be eligible to receive benefits from the state government.

Religious and political outfits should not be allowed to discourage population planning and any such effort on their part should be censured by the Governor.

It is also suggested to provide a cash incentive of Rs 5,000 to women who marry after the age of 19 and have their first child only after they turn 20.

Safe abortion services in hospitals should be made free and through hospitals, health care centres in both private and government sectors.

The Committee has said that harsh realities of the country prompted them to formulate such a policy which will make Kerala a model state when it comes to checking population growth.

It's a known fact that India, where 33 children are born every minute, is second only to China in terms of population.

About 61 per cent of our population has no access to pure drinking water. 215 million people suffer endemic hunger while 26 per cent live below BPL.

About 35 per cent of the country's population is illiterate. The situation is such that neither the states nor the Centre has the financial wherewithal to provide even basic amenities to all the people.

It's here that curbing population growth becomes pertinent. Despite adopting various measures including contraceptive distribution, success in arresting population growth has been limited.

Religious minorities including the Church and Muslim organisations are up in arms against the recommendations. The Church has deemed it as a violation of human rights saying number of children is purely a couple's decision which the State cannot interfere with. Taking on the commission, a parish in Wayanad announced Rs 10,000 as cash reward for the fifth child.

Not surprising as the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) had made their opposition to family planning loud and clear even as early as 1998. They gave a fillip to their pro-life movement earlier this year with the slogan "children are wealth". Of course, quoting from the Bible: "GO FORTH and multiply, God told Adam."

The Muslim league and Jammat - e - Islami too raised voices of protest. To quote from their press release: "The two-child norm proposed by the commission was 'inhuman' and the government should reject the recommendations, which 'violates' individual liberty and fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution."

The Hindu majority has, however, remained a mute spectator.

Population experts have also questioned the scientific explanation behind the two-child norm. According to them, couples in Kerala had two or less children and the average childbearing rate was less than two for at least the past 15 years. The population growth has been decreasing over the years and the state will experience negative population growth in 10 years' time. Couples took a longer time to have child due to women's educational standards and late marriages. The prohibitive cost of childbirth is another factor.

For a minority-heavy UDF government, the issue has become too hot to handle. Sensing the mood, Kerala's Congress government has announced that it would go for wider consultations before going ahead with the draft. Rubbishing the recommendations completely will make the very aim of such a Bill futile. The need of the hour is perhaps a healthy public debate taking all sections of the society into confidence.


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More about Dakshina Muraleedharan

I started my career as a reporter with Times Now, Chennai. Covered Dravidian politics extensively for the Lok Sabha elections, 2009. Reported on investigative stories relating to child sex rackets and child sexual abuse across Tamil Nadu. In charge of the Kerala Bureau of CNN-IBN now. Reported extensively on the state elections, April, 2011. I have always believed that journalism is my window to the world. It keeps me grounded and in touch with reality.
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