Challenging negative social norms

Source: The Hindu


India touches a demographic milestone this World Population Day, wherein half of its population is below 29 years of age. However, a prudent realisation of this demographic dividend is possible only when every citizen (especially women) enjoys a robust degree of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This enjoyment in turn demands challenging negative social norms in Indian Society.

  • World Population Day (July 11) brings some positive news to India. The country has entered a demographic sweet spot that will continue for another two to three decades
  • Half of India’s population is under 29 years of age. This means a greater proportion of young people will drive India’s economic growth and social progress.
How should the population be developed?
  • They must not only be healthy, knowledgeable, and skilled but must also be provided with the rights and choices to develop to their fullest potential. 
  • This includes imparting a sufficient degree of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
    • A comprehensive definition of SRHR by the Guttmacher–Lancet Commission encompasses a broader range of issues.
    • These include SRHR and issues such as violence, stigma and respect for bodily autonomy. It greatly impacts the psychological, emotional and social well-being of individuals.
Trends in India’s population growth:
  • India’s population growth is now stabilising. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), presently at 2.2 children, will soon reach replacement level (2.1).
    • TFR refers to the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime. 
  • However, the TFR remains higher than the national average of 2.2 children among women who live in rural areas.
Challenges in giving SRHR and controlling TFR
  • First, rural women have little formal education and are in the lowest income quintile — a majority of them live in the poorer States.
  • Second, the prevailing social norms doesn’t allow women to have a say in choosing their family size.
  • Third, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in healthcare systems. This has led to serious gaps and challenges in the provision of information and services on sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

India’s performance with SRH indicators:


  • Sample Registration System’s (SRS) data shows progressive policies for maternal health have resulted in improved rates of institutional delivery and a decline in maternal mortality ratio (MMR). 
    • It declined from 327 in 1999-2001 to 113 per 100,000 live births in 2016-18.
  • National Health Family Survey 5 for the year 2019-20 (NFHS-5) shows contraceptive prevalence has improved in most States.
  • Programs such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) have made some efforts to challenge existing social norms. It has underlined that investments in social causes must go alongside economic progress.


  • In girls aged 15-19 years, 22.2% had an unmet need for contraception, according to NFHS-4. This points to inadequate information and access to SRH services for this age group.
  • Girls are still marrying too young 26.8% of women aged 20-24 years are married before they turn 18. Further they often have their first child within the first year of marriage. 
  • India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report (2021). It is now the third-worst performer in South Asia.

Way Ahead:

  • India’s population stabilisation strategy must be adjusted, keeping in mind the rights of women and girls. Placing youth, women and girls at the centre of policymaking and services could trigger a positive ripple effect. 
    • Young people, and adolescent girls, in particular, should have access to education, relevant skills, information and services to make healthy choices.
    • They should be empowered to exercise their rights, and have access to opportunities for employment.
  • Research and practical experience shows that societies are healthier and more productive when women are empowered to make informed choices.
    • A woman who has control over her body gains not only in terms of autonomy but also through advances in health, education, income and safety. She is more likely to thrive, and so is her family. 
    • The UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) calls upon stakeholders to help build a new set of social norms to drive this mission.
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