The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has shown that over the past 24 years, new-generation Muslim families have done a better job at family planning, though their statistical figures still trail Hindu families.
Historian and author, Rana Safvi believes that the Muslim women are now more considerate about family planning | File photo from REUTERS
Population explosion is an age-old issue in the country, but it has gained traction once again after Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in his Independence Day speech.
While addressing the nation on its 73rd Independence Day, the PM said that those planning small families “deserve respect” and that their act was patriotic.
However, some political leaders leveraged his statement to point fingers at a particular community. For them, it was an opportunity to peddle again the narrative that Muslim population is growing at a rapid pace in India and that it might soon outnumber the Hindu population. In fact, a few politicos from the Bharatiya Janata Party have used this misinformation to exhort Hindu women to birth at least four children.
But, the India Today Data Intelligence Unit has found out that, currently, this narrative does not hold water. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) has shown that over the past 24 years, new-generation Muslim families have done a better job at family planning, though their statistical figures still trail Hindu families.
According to the World Health Organisation, “The total fertility rate [TFR] refers to the total number of children born or likely to be born to a woman in her lifetime”.
In India, the TFR for women has been reducing across all communities. While the TFR for Muslim women in NFHS-1 (1992-93) was 4.4, it declined to 2.6 in NFHS-4 (2015-16). Though it is still higher than Hindu women, the gap between Hindu-Muslim TFR has narrowed in the past two decades.ADVERTISEMENT
In 1992-93, the difference between Hindu-Muslim TFR was 1.1 children, which meant that Muslim women were likely to have 33 per cent more children than Hindu women. This reduced to 0.5 children in 2015-16, implying that Muslim women were likely to give birth to 23.8 per cent more children than Hindu women.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Increasing age of first-time mothers and gap between births
Delaying the age at which a woman births her first child and increasing the gap between births of successive children has helped in reducing fertility rates in many countries. This phenomenon seems to be true for India too.
Age of first time moms
In 1992-93, the median age at which a woman became a mother for the first time was 19.4 years for Hindu women and 18.7 years for Muslim women. By 2015-16, the median age had increased to 21 in Hindu women and 20.6 in Muslim women.
Not only this, the interval between successive births has increased in both the communities. Here also, the Muslims have done better.
Gap between births
Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the birth interval rose by 2.5 per cent for Hindu women whereas it rose by 3.75 per cent for Muslim women.
Decline in unplanned children
While both Hindu and Muslim women have also managed to reduce the number of unplanned children, the drop is higher in the latter. The difference between the TFR and the desired fertility rate gives an estimate of unplanned children. Desired fertility rate is the average number of children a couple plans to have in their fertile ages.
Muslim women have cut down unplanned children by 50 per cent
For instance, in 2005-06, Muslim women had a total fertility rate of 3.4 whereas their desired fertility rate was 2.2. The difference between the two was 1.2 children. This means that, on an average, a Muslim woman was giving birth to about 1 unplanned child.
In 2015-16, the number of unplanned children per Muslim woman came down to 0.6, a 50 per cent reduction in 10 years. During the same period, unplanned children per Hindu woman came down to 0.29, a 42 per cent reduction.
Impact on growth rate
The declining fertility rates have also shown their impact on the growth rate of the total population of the community.
In 1991, when the Muslim fertility rate was 4.4, Muslim population grew by 32.88 per cent (Census). In 2011, the TFR came down to 3.4, and the Muslim population decadal growth rate also came down to 24.6 per cent.
Postponing of marriages
According to Professor Sanjay Kumar, Department of Fertility, International Institute of Population Studies, there are broadly three factors responsible for reducing fertility rates in India.
“The first is an increase in the age at which women get married now. Second is the rise in induced abortions. Third is the use of contraceptives. While contraceptive usage has declined marginally at the national level, it has increased in many states of India,” he said.
SOCIAL CHANGE IN MUSLIM COMMUNITY
Historian and author, Rana Safvi believes that the Muslim women are now more considerate about family planning since their primary concerns for their children are the same as of other communities – economics and education.ADVERTISEMENT
“Many Muslim landowning families fell into dire straits after Independence and partition due to abolition of the Zamindari system and their property being confiscated under the Enemy Property Act. This led to their children suffering several financial problems, which, now as grown-ups, they don’t want to inflict on their own children. This is why most Muslim women are now economically more considerate and are ensuring their children have access to good education,” said Safvi.
Farheen Naz, project manager at ‘Tarraqi I’ foundation, an NGO that helps in educating and training marginalised sections of society, believes that there is a change in the attitude of the new-generation Muslims regarding their family size.
“Earlier, people would want 4-5 children, but now they want only 2-3 children. Their focus has also shifted to improving education of girls, which has resulted in increased awareness, especially among Muslim women, and probably resulted in postponing the age of marriage and the birth of their first child,” sais Naz.
All India Survey on Higher Education 2018 showed that while there was a rise of 24 percent in female enrolment from 2013-14, the rise in enrolment of Muslim women was 47 per cent, almost double the national average.
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