Assam passes draft population policy, seeks public suggestions

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India’s, finds Assam’s two-child norm discriminatory against women and the poor

The draft of a new population policy for the state was recently unveiled by Himanta Biswa Sarma, Health Minister, Assam, which proposes, among other things, to penalise people who have more than two children. However, the government has sought public suggestions on the draft population policy, which would be put up in the public domain, before it is finally placed in the state assembly in August. If the draft were to become law, they would be ineligible for government jobs and benefits, and be barred from contesting all elections held under the aegis of the state election commission.

The draft also suggests raising the minimum age of marriage for girls and making education free till the university level for all girl students in the state. It is currently open to inputs from the public. If it does become an Act, Assam will be the only state after Rajasthan to have a population policy of its own. The rest of the states follow the National Population Policy of 2000.

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India feels that the strict two-child norm is not feasible. “This norm is mainly coercive in nature and coercion has never worked in India prior to this. It violates people’s rights, especially women. Even today, girls are married before 18 years of age and have no say in the number of children they want to have. This norm deprives such women of government jobs as well.”

“In India, we need an agency for women empowerment more than such coercive measures. However, this norm is a discrimination against the poorest people and the women in the state. What we really need in order to reduce population is educating girls and increasing the minimum age for marriage. There were two-child norms in Panchayats in six states of India, where there are evidences of men divorcing their wives and disowning their children. Also, the Government Population Policy, 2002 is against incentives and disincentives. India has signed the draft plan of action, Cairo (the international population development conference) which totally has asked for a call to end both incentives and disincentives. This norm is violating the National Population Policy,” said Muttreja while speaking about the norm.