India with an estimated population of 142.86 crore has overtaken China with a headcount of 142.57 crore to become the most populous country in the world, according to the State of World Population report released on April 19 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF). With global population crossing 8 billion, the report attempts to nuance the debates around increasing number of people on Earth, away from the common binary whether the global population is growing too fast in some places or slowing down too much in certain countries.
Despite India becoming the most populous country, the overall female fertility 2.0 compared to the global average of 2.3. The data also indicates that the average life expectancy for males in India is 71 years, while for females it’s 74 years, compared to the global averages of 71 and 76 respectively. This means, the growth rate has fallen under the replacement rate of 2.1 as an indicator of slowing down of the India’s population growth.
However, these numbers should be taken with a degree of caution since the Government of India has not conducted its decadal census in 2021, which provides the most authentic headcount across various age groups and demographics.
Despite the growth in absolute numbers of global population, the growth rate is slowing down, says the report. “While people have never been more numerous than they are today, and total population numbers will continue to grow for several decades, the latest United Nations projections suggest that the rate of global population growth has fallen and has been at less than 1 per cent since 2020. This is largely due to declining fertility; around two thirds of people live in a country or area with a total fertility rate at or below 2.1 children per woman (widely considered the “replacement fertility” rate, also called “zero-growth fertility” rate).”
The report carries plenty of caveats about concerns of population growth. One of the caveats highlights that alarm over increase in absolute number has led to countries adopting gender-based discriminatory and other harmful practices like sex-selective abortions. “To achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, a much more inclusive view of reproductive health and rights programming is needed, one that does not passively presume to reach the most marginalized but that instead proactively seeks to address the needs of these groups,” says the report.
With some countries, including India, obsessing over fertility rates, the report strikes a note of caution. “Yet many population policies continue to regard reproductive rights and bodily autonomy as secondary ambitions—if they are considered at all. Such policies design family planning services to meet national and international fertility targets rather than to meet the fertility intentions of individuals. This creates conditions under which reproductive rights are insufficiently protected and upheld, or even conditions in which these rights are deliberately violated,” it says.
The report strongly advocates formulation of rights-based policies that ensure gender equality in various walks of life, instead of adopting a target-based approach for population control.
He is the Executive Editor of Tatsat Chronicle and has more than 22 years of experience during which he held several senior editorial positions in print publications, news television and digital media platforms. The former Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated has launched two editions of one India’s largest circulating English newspapers and five magazines. He has written and reported on wide-ranging subjects from crime to politics, from technology to sports, from bureaucracy and governance to environmental issues.