The World Population Day is a day for introspection. India has spectacularly failed in controlling its population and in utilising its huge human resource base to engender national progress. Is it too late to effect a change of course? Making this observation on the eve of UN World Population Day, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, said “Nations have suffered for want of enough able bodied and wise men. We have plenty of this resource in India but don’t know how to use it to our national advantage. What can be a greater tragedy?”
The Health Minister said that the theme for this year’s World Population Day chosen by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPS) is “Investing in youth”. For India this is most appropriate because it presently has one of the youngest populations in the world. More than half are below 25 and 65 percent of the population is under 35 years of age, he stated.
The intention of observing July 11 as World Population is to raise awareness on the need to offer adequate health, education and other essential services. The Executive Director of UNFPA, Mr Babatunde Osotomehin has called for raising people’s awareness of the problem of adolescent pregnancies. He has also given a call for investing in adolescent girls which is key to achieving development aims. This, according to the Health Minister, dovetails with Prime Minister Sh Narendra Modi’s stated objectives. “Even in the second decade of the 21st century, the government is nowhere when it comes to evolving an education system which convinces people not to impose marriage and pregnancy on young girls before they are physically and mentally capable of motherhood,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
WHO has stated that half of the world’s adolescent pregnancies occur in seven countries, one of which is India. A UNFPA report of 2011 stated that every year 4 million teenage girls under 18 have babies. For every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 there are 76 adolescent births compared to 49 worldwide and 53 in developing countries. “Let us not harbour the illusion that these pregnancies are the result of sound consensus. They are a consequence of discrimination, rights violations, child marriage, inadequate education or downright rape. I have spoken out against so-called sex education without pedagogy on this burning issue and would like it to be replaced by a format which makes people aware about child pregnancy and associated evils,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said. Dr Vardhan said that the present population of India, 1.2 billion, need not be viewed as a burden. “Our population is young and willing to contribute but we have to empower them with adequate skills. This is the only route to harnessing the demographic pidend.”