Nothing must stop India from giving family planning the Budget it deserves

Deaths due to botched-up family planning operations reflect the lack of quality of women's healthcare.

 |  3-minute read |   27-01-2017
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In 1951, India was the first country in the world to launch a National Family Planning Programme aimed at improving the health of mothers and children.

However, with growing concerns about the rising population and its negative impact on social and economic development, the third five-year plan marked a move from a "women and child welfare" approach to one of population control.

In 1976, National Population Policy was formulated, which emphasised making family planning compulsory for citizens - various coercive methods were used at the time to control the fertility levels, mainly through vasectomies.

The landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994 marked a "quantum leap" for population and development policies.

It was a paradigm shift from the earlier emphasis on population control and demography to sustainable development.

famp_012717063451.jpg The investment has the potential to avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths in the next four years. Photo: Reuters

The conference urged the world to agree that population is not just about counting people, but about making sure that every person counts.

ICPD marked the focal point of the millennium for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) policies and brought about a paradigm shift in the discourse - from population "control" to a human rights framework.

179 countries signed the ICPD Plan for Action, including India.

Given India's history of family planning, ICPD's rights-based approach represented a paradigm shift that articulated a bold new vision about the relationship between population, development and individual well-being.

This, subsequently, translated into major changes in India's population and health policies.

Since 1994, India has developed many policies and schemes across sectors that address several critical reproductive rights issues including policies on health, youth, and women, like the Reproductive and Child Health Programme (RCHI and II), National Population Policy (2000), and National Health Policy (2002).

The emphasis on family planning in a rights-based framework has further increased after India's commitment at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, and Sustainable Development Goals in 2016.

It is unfortunate that recognising the importance of a rights-based framework has not entirely translated on the ground.

The death of 16 women at the Bilaspur sterilisation camp in 2014, and more recently the death of one woman and two others battling for life due to botched-up family planning operations at a camp in Yavatmal, and the case of 15 women in Karnataka who were hospitalised after being injected with the wrong medicine before tubectomy, reflect the lack of quality of care in our family planning program.

However, in the recent Supreme Court judgment of Devika Biswas Vs Union of India, the court upholds the dignity and rights of women and men in the country by emphasising the quality of family planning and has directed the Union government to ensure sterilisation camps are discontinued within three years and institute fixed day services instead.

It has pushed the conversation on family planning and women's rights in the right direction, moving away from the narrow prism of numbers, and it prioritises the issues of women's reproductive health and their rights.

Moving forward with the implementation of such visionary policies means the government will have to increase its budget on family planning, an investment that has the potential to avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths in the next four years.

Talking sex and make-up to a teen in light of her mother's failed sterilisation

Writer

Poonam Muttreja Poonam Muttreja @letstransform

The author is Executive Director, Population Foundation of India. She also serves as a member of the FP2020 Reference Group - a global initiative to develop a new global architecture for increasing access to voluntary family planning services.

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