Does India Need a Population Control Law? Chinese Experience Shows the Way

Can India Take Inspiration From the Chinese experience?

By Dr. Monica Verma

China has recently relaxed its two-child policy to make way for a new three-child policy. The new policy while easing the restriction of number of children from two to three, also aims to incentivise this through various policy measures. For a country that’s already the most populated country in the world with around 1.4 billion people, this easing of restriction has taken many by surprise.

What may actually be the reason for China to ask its citizens to produce more?

Well, the recent policy change is a direct consequence of the shocking fact that census figures have thrown in China’s face. Its working age population (15-59 years) has shrunk by around 7% while the ageing population (people above 60 years of age) has increased by around 5% in the matter of a decade between 2010-2020.
This is serious crisis for a country whose industrialisation model is based on supply of cheap labour.

At the peak of demographic dividend, young population in China contributed as much as 15% to the total GDP. The young population in China peaked in 2011 at 925 million which is around 3/4th of the total population. However, by 2050 only a little above 50% of its total population will fall in the 15-59 age bracket.

Ageing population is a global phenomenon of concern with many developed countries such as Japan and Germany grappling with the challenge. But what makes China’s challenge daunting is its status of a middle-income country with labour-intensive model of manufacturing. Even its agriculture sector is dependent on manual labour. Cheap and steady supply of labour is thus a necessity to sustain economic growth.

In absolute numbers, India is all set to leave China behind as the most populous country by 2025. The shrinking working age population has been long sending alarm bells ringing in China. This is why the first break from the one-child policy came in 2016 when CCP relaxed it to a two-child policy. That change hardly led to any shift on ground. In 2020, only 12 million child births were reported in the fourth consecutive annual decline. Total fertility rate remains a dismal 1.3 per children per woman as against the required 2.0 to maintain the population.

Despite all the negativity around large size of population, it remains an important element of National Power. Even in the times of technology-driven warfare, manpower retains its own charm. Same is true for the role of population in economic development. Big countries like China and India know it best because of their dependence on labour-intensive model of industrialisation.

Chinese experience with population control has many lessons for India

India, a domestic debate on the need for a population control law is gaining momentum. A bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha by parliamentarian Rakesh Sinha in 2019 carrying signatures of 125 members of parliament. Similarly, another bill was tabled by Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai in 2020 to incentivise small family norms. But if China’s experience is anything to go by, instead of population control law, India must be worried about its dwindling fertility rate.

Currently India’s population is 1.3 billion. According to a UN report, India is all set to overtake China’s population by 2027 and will continue to remain the most populous country till the end of this century. Despite the growth in absolute numbers, the reality of our population growth is completely different.

Between 2001-2011, India had the sharpest decline in decadal growth rate from 21.54% in 1991-2001 to 17.64% in 2001-2011. Total fertility rate in India at the replacement level has already fallen to  just 2.2  from 3.2 in 2000, according to the sample registration system of 2018.

In fact, National Family Health Survey-4 recorded TFR at just 1.8 among urban women but the rural section of the population is also catching fast with the low TFR trend.

Currently, India is benefitting from a demographic dividend which will peak in 2041 with 59% of its population falling in the working age bracket (20-59 years). But what China is facing today, India will face two decades thereafter when after 2041, the share of aged population will start increasing exponentially.

Some states in Southern India as well as Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and Maharashtra are already witnessing transition towards an ageing population. In such a scenario, state’s focus should obviously be on how to manage the ageing population with various measures such as pension plans and increasing the retirement age. But the key imperative is to make sure country has access to steady supply of working age population even after 2041, that nudges to explore for innovative policy choices rather than measures like blanket population control.

Author is a PhD in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi. She tweets at @trulymonica

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The True Picture. The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.)