Impact and Consequences of Two Child Norm Law

The conflating of ‘national interest’ with population control has serious negative consequences. The Two Child Norm and Policy and the disincentives built in it specially have serious negative consequences for women and girls and also on birth and survival of girl child, as also illustrated in a number of studies.

Mahila Chenta Manch an organization based in Bhopal MP conducted a study in 2000 in five States – Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh (which included Chhattisgarh), Haryana, Orissa, and Rajasthan which had introduced the two-child norm in their Panchayat laws. It was for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and was supported by UNFPA. The study concluded that “the way the norm is conceptualised and currently implemented is not without serious unintended
negative consequences”, deserting pregnant wives, concealment of babies, tampering with birth certificates and immunisation records in Anganwadis, increasing prenatal sex determination followed by abortion of female foetuses are other alarming, but not unexpected outcomes of enforcing of the two child ‘norm’. The stories of women are revealing, a woman Sarpanch and her husband, a Panchayat member, gave up their third child (a daughter) for adoption, and in
another instance, a man denied he was the father, leading to a DNA test being proposed to prove the paternity of the baby.
More than 50% of those disqualified under the provisions of the ‘two child’ norm in the study states were either illiterate or had primary education only. Economically and socially vulnerable sections suffered the most as 75% of those disqualified belonged to SC, ST and backward classes. There were cases of denial of parentage, abortions, infants being abandoned and given up to other family members to beat the two-child norm. In one case in Himachal Pradesh the husband gave an affidavit the moment he realized that his wife was pregnant, stating that the woman and child belong to his brother. This is a very complicated issue in areas like Sirmour where polyandry is still practiced.
The law has no structured implementation mechanism and works through the complaint route. Action is initiated if someone complains about the third child. It was seen that this fuelled local power politics at the village level. Women face negative consequences of this law directly as candidates as well as indirectly (as spouse of those disqualified) in the form of desertion, forced abortions, neglect and death of female infant or female child being given up for adoption. The law is therefore rightly described as discriminatory and anti-women.
Policies of population control are targeted at women, who have larger number of children for complex reasons - immediate survival, a necessity, due to high infant mortality, lack of access to health service and patriarchal control over sexuality and reproduction. In the absence of state supported social welfare, children are the only security to the poor in illness and old age and are viewed as additional working hands and family support, rather than extra consumers who will drain the family resources.
Bhim Raskar of the Resource and Support Centre for Development, an NGO that oversees various projects in Maharashtra's villages also, says that those who wish to tame India’s population growth must address the problems that give rise to large families. Weak public services, especially health care, give parents reason to have several children, as an insurance policy against some of them dying. Poor women’s rights and education spur parents to procreate until they have at least one son. Mr. Raskar shakes his head at the idea of imposing a two-child norm from above. “Laws should be the last weapon, but here it is being used as the first weapon. You need to try to understand [a situation], and then change will come.”
SAMA a Resource Group for Women and Health conducted a study in 12 districts of Madhya Pradesh (2003-04) which reflected the ways in which the Two Child Norm acted as a discriminatory method to disempower the marginalised groups of dalits, women and adivasis, apart from disengaging the youth from the political process. Nearly 50% of the disqualified candidates belonged to SC, ST and OBC categories.

Women have been rendered more vulnerable and doubly disadvantaged. Increase in violence against women, forced abortions, desertion, abandonment, divorce, alleging infidelity, sex selective abortions, giving up children (especially girls) for adoption, etc., were evident.

Women have no decision-making power regarding the number of children. They face the consequences of having an additional child since their husbands holding the office refuse to acknowledge the new born. When the woman herself is the actual office holder, having a third child is used as a tool to usurp her authority and in such cases the mother-in-law or other men replace her.
Intersection of patriarchy, son preference, reluctance for girl child and access to easy technology, despite law lead to sex selection and abortion. These are resorted to for contesting, continuing in the local body. Politics, complaint, influence, official attitude to implementations and under currents of mind set are reflected in these practices.
In a working paper an economist S. Arukrits from Boston College and Abhisek Chakravarty of the University of Essex in their study looked at seven States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan & Himachal Pradesh where such laws were in effect between 1992 and 2005. Using data from various rounds of NFHS and District Level Household Survey (DLHS), these researchers found that there was a marked decline in the number of women in the general population reporting third births exactly one year after the new policy was announced. The first year was a ‘grace’ period in all of the state laws. The decline was relative to the State’s own history of the decline in fertility as well as other States which did not enact the law. The research also shows that the enactment of these laws led to the worsening of sex ratio in these States. This was particularly true for upper caste families whose first child was a daughter. The norm for politicians did not affect a change in the overall population. The effect is not so much from a role model effect via people emulating local leaders but more from
people’s desire to remain eligible for future elections themselves. The decline in fertility begins immediately after the grace period ends. A role model effect would take some time to become visible. There is also evidence that men were divorcing their wives to remain eligible for elections and that such laws were putting the third children at a disadvantage. (The Hindu Sept. 7, 2014 – Rukmini S: 2-child norm for local bodies hurts sex ratio).

There is one view that the two-child norm seeks to reward, rather than force, family planning and that it is a far cry from China’s one-child policy or India’s own past but critics say and justifiably so that the main outcome of its application is to exclude the poorest Indians—who tend to have more children—from all sorts of welfare schemes. Leena Uppal, of the National Coalition Against 2CN and Coercive Population Policies, adds that, in a country where many parents see having fewer children as having fewer chances to produce a son, discouraging larger families simply encourages female foeticide.
An empirical study of the perceptions and views of the policy makers, programme implementers and disqualified elected representatives in four States recorded the arguments given by some respondents that adoption of the two child norm by elected representatives in Panchayats should have a “demonstration” effect on the community. The paper however concluded that “evidence suggests that even at the village level caste, class and gender politics dominate and those who belong to the backward communities do not offer any role model to members of higher castes or
their own kith and kin”. The Two Child Norm is clearly anti women and anti-weaker segments as is clear from profiles and numbers of those disqualified in Panchayats on the ground of violation of the Two Child Norm. (Leela Visalia, Akash Acharya, Francis Raj – Two Child Norm, victimizing the vulnerable? (EPW January 7, 2006).

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