Shubhangi Gehlot [Law student at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat]
Recently, China passed its controversial divorce law which implies that married couples who are opting for divorce have to complete a 30 days interval. In this given period, if one partner decides to withdraw or disapprove the final approval, the application will be nullified. Further, the other spouse has to either apply again and the cooling period repeats creating an easy law to be misused. It is allegedly the government’s actions to curb the growing concern of decreased population growth rate of their country by not letting them be divorced and avoid bearing children. Currently, the social status of China is similar to other Asian and South Asian countries and is quite misogynist in nature.
Whereas, in a different set-up of India, the government is planning to have a law for strict two-child policy. The Population Regulation Bill has already been introduced in the Parliament in July 2019 by MP Rakesh Sinha. The Bill includes:
People with more than two children will receive fewer government services at the discretion of the individual state governments. Specifically, the services would be limited subsidies and other benefits under the public distribution system regardless of their economic position.
Citizens with more than two children should be disqualified from standing for elections to public office.
To provide benefits like access to public education, healthcare facilities and insurance to families following these two-child policy norms.
But what do these comparisons imply?
Both these scenarios have two commonalities:
‘unscientific government intervention in families’ and
‘regulations which will affect women at large’.
How do women suffer when such kind of government intruding laws are passed?
India is still not socially equipped with the concept of equal rights to the girl child. The ills of female infanticide and foeticide are still prevalent despite the ample amount of laws. Hence, if the bill is passed an increase in female foeticide will be one of the negative outcomes. Other than unlawful abortions, it can also lead to menacing and inconvenient ways to access the termination of pregnancy. Secondly, stringent laws have always been unscientific and unreasonable as they rarely have been able to provide the results which are needed. Even, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which was held in Cairo in 1994, clearly stated that governments must not incorporate any disciplinary ways to set any kinds of ‘population targets’ especially when they are impacting women’s rights.
Our system is also not competent enough to carry out legitimate procedures for sterilisation and family planning. There have been instances in India's past, where women from poor communities have died due to forced sterilisation. This included the problems related to the non-compliance with the mandated process and consumption of detrimental contraceptive pills or injections. Hence, the bill will induce a threat to the physical, reproductive and mental health of Indian women.
The debate on reproductive autonomy
Though the right to procreation is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution but can be traced under the scope of Article 21. This was clearly stated in the case of Jasvir Singh vs. the State of Punjab. Hence, women’s reproductive autonomy is to be considered as a fundamental right towards the protection of life and personal liberty. Even Article 22 UDHR states that couples have the right to determine the number and spacing of their children where the government should provide welfare medical services and education to assist the couples in reasonably determining the same.
Moreover, according to Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights: A Handbook for National Human Rights Institutions, “The right to physical integrity implies that all persons have the right to control their bodies, including their sexual and reproductive life, and be free from any intervention, medical or otherwise, save with their full, free and informed consent.”
Furthermore, attention needs to be given to the real situation before the government imposes any kind of legislation. It is reported that maternal healthcare utilization among Indian women is not adequate as it should be. There’s a major control of the partner and in-laws on the Indian woman’s pregnancy. The reproductive autonomy is limited by imposing several restrictions on their movement, decision-making and financial decisions. The family structure already fails to provide equal powers to the women in the process of family planning to childbearing. This includes from using contraceptives to having an abortion, the decision lies with the male spouse.
There have been population plans across many countries like Japan, France, South Korea and the USA, but none of these has punitive measures. Rather they opt for numerous policies for proper family planning according to their countries’ population growth status. Hence, lawmakers need to be more thoughtful as the country needs better public policies regarding this issue. This kind of Bill can only turn Indian woman into another victim of the Handmaid’s tale.
Image's original source: UNFPA India