Emerging Issues and Challenges [Two Child Norm]

We see the emerging issues and challenges in what the exploratory study of Mahila Chetna Manch (MCM) in five States showed. For instance, the assumption in introducing the two-child norm was that this norm would check the high population growth rate which, in turn, would lead to improved development indicators and a better quality of life for the citizens of India. It was incorporated in the Panchayat related laws in different States with the assumption that Panchayat leaders with two children would serve as role models for the rest of the community.

The background characteristics of the five States which MCM studied show that the Two Child Norm as a condition for Panchayat posts cannot be necessary for development and population stabilisation. In gender related data four States emerge with concerns regarding the status of women either due to the high literacy gap between men and women or even the more disquieting fact of declining child sex ratio. Given these circumstances the risk of the already precarious status of women being adversely affected through the application of the coercive law of the norm is high.
An examination of the background information relating to population, development and women’s status in the five study States of MCM study indicates that the application of the norm has the potential to harm the status of women or is unnecessary in all the five States even if it is assumed that such a norm enforced by law can be effective in influencing fertility decisions.
The two child norm has an adverse impact on the status of women. Women face double-edged challenge – decision making on reproduction has not been in women’s hand and yet they suffer directly (as candidates) or indirectly (as spouse of those disqualified) the consequences of implementation of the norm. A number of disquieting trends were visible in the practices used to meet the conditionalities of the law without changes in the decision about the family size and without moving away from the strong son preference.

The experience shows the potential of using the two-child norm to harass opponents. There was also an indication that the norm could be circumvented and evaded through manipulations which are easier for those with political or financial clout. The process of complaints, inquiry and disqualification is a continuing process encroaching upon the resources of the competent authorities and also distracting the aggrieved persons from more productive development work.
The application of the two-child norm can adversely affect both the democratic rights and reproductive choices of individuals. There is, however, an overwhelming public opinion, especially among the key actors like policy makers and programme implementers, doctors and lawyers, that the norm is necessary to reduce the family size and population growth rate and give the desired impetus to development.
The law was introduced with the expectations that the Panchayat representatives by following the norm would be able to set an example for others to follow. Field based qualitative studies found no corroborative evidences to this effect. On the other hand, there were enough evidences to suggest that the unintended outcomes were far more serious.
What becomes very clear is that the two-child norm gets selectively applied to persons depending upon their socio-economic vulnerability, political rivalries, perceived importance of the post occupied and as a tool to discourage potentially promising candidates.
These negative consequences were, on the one hand, without attaining any of the intended outcomes of the two-child norm. On the other, the two-child norm is seen to be having a dampening effect on those lower in the caste and class hierarchy, particularly women, in terms of discouraging them from participating in grass roots level institutions of governance.

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