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New Delhi: China's reducing population should serve as a clarion call for India, experts have said, asserting that any coercive measure to control population can be counter-productive.
China, the most populous country in the world, witnessed a population decline for the first time in decades last year. The country's population was about 1.4 billion at the end of 2022.
The National Bureau of Statistics in China reported a drop of 850,000 in population at the end of 2022 and it marked the beginning of what is expected to be a long period of population decline, despite all government efforts to reverse the trend.
Comparing China's situation with India which is set to become the world's most populous country by mid-April, the experts said India and its states must learn from the experience of China on the inefficacy of coercive population policies.
"The stringent population control measures have landed China in the midst of a population crisis. Today, Sikkim, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Puducherry, Punjab, Ladakh, West Bengal and Lakshadweep also face the challenge of an aging population, labour pool in short supply and an increase in sex-selective practices, given the fertility rate which is well below the replacement level of Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which is defined as the rate at which the population exactly replaces itself," the Population Foundation of India (PFI), an NGO, said in a statement.
The reduced TFR will result in an age-structural transformation wherein the states will have a demographic dividend in the initial years, but an aging population in the long run, the PFI said.
"This will increase the elderly dependency ratio and increased morbidity levels in terms of non-communicable diseases, in the long run. Going forward, these states will require huge amounts of resources for financial support of the elderly and address their health care needs," the statement said.
The linkage between higher development and a decline in TFR is clearly borne out by states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, which provide better access to education and development opportunities, it said.
"China's reducing population should serve as a clarion call for India, on not only what to do – but also what not to do. India must put an end to the buzz and noise around the possible introduction of a two-child norm," the PFI said.
"In order to leverage our demographic dividend and the wealth of human resource in India, it is critical that development interventions are geared towards education with a focus on gender equity, economic development and access to family planning services," the foundation said.
Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director at Centre for Advocacy and Research, said for India there can be no one standard response with a clear south-north divide on this issue with the latter continuing to have the advantage of a demographic dividend or youth power.
"The moot question is whether they can leverage the advantage and as a nation can we address disparate challenges related to the issue from adverse child sex ratio, ageing population as well as the rising youth population," Sivadas said.
China has witnessed a declining trend in proportion of people in the age group of 15-59 years, from 22.9 percentage points in 2000, 16.6 percentage points in 2010 and 9.8 percentage points in 2020.
As predicted by demographers, Chinese population is growing old and the proportion of people aged 60 years and above is 18.7 per cent of total population in 2020 against 13.3 per cent in 2010.
In recent decades, China's focus has largely been on coercive measures to restrict population growth. China introduced the one-child policy in the late 1970s to slow down the rapid population growth, before reversing it in 2016 to allow families to have two children.
However, in 2021, China relaxed its childbirth policy to allow each couple to have up to three children.
Stricter birth limits have created a rapidly ageing population and shrinking work force that is straining the country's economy, the experts said.
The population control measures have led to a skewed sex ratio and a decline in the number of women of the reproductive age group, which will be hard to reverse, they said.