China is well known for having instituted a one-child policy back in 1979. While the policy was effective in stemming population growth, critics argue that the side effects have created many societal problems in China today.

Despite the problems associated with China’s one-child policy, some political leaders in India have been working for many years to create similar legislation. In 2016, Member of Parliament Prahalad Singh Patel introduced a bill that would have limited Indians to two children. However, this proposed two-child policy did not even make it to a vote.

Key Takeaways

  • India did not have a national child policy as of January 2020.
  • Many local laws in India apply penalties for having more than two children.
  • India's fertility rate was already down to 2.3 children per woman in 2016.
  • Local two-child laws in India have been criticized for being unnecessary, violating women's rights, and discriminating against Muslims.

Developments in 2020

In early 2020, National Volunteer Organization (RSS) leader Mohan Bhagwat declared that a two-child policy would be one of the organization's primary goals. Bhagwat's support made the two-child policy more controversial. Some have criticized the proposal as an attempt to limit the growth of India's Muslim population.

Historically, the RSS was closely linked with the ruling Indian People's Party (BJP). Under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has moved away from the RSS.

Local Two-Child Policies

While there was no national two-child policy in India as of early 2020, there were local laws. These family planning laws are aimed toward politicians, both current and aspiring. Under the policy, people running in panchayat (local government) elections can be disqualified if they have not respected the two-child policy. The idea behind the law is that ordinary citizens will look up to their local politicians and follow their family size example.

Some local governments have gone a step further. There are laws in some states that apply penalties to ordinary citizens for having more than two children. These disincentives include denying government rights to children born after the second child. They may also deny state-provided healthcare for mothers and children, including nutritional supplements for pregnant women.

For fathers, there may be fines and jail time. Penalties also include a general decrease in social services for large families and restrictions on government employment and promotions.

Criticisms

Almost from the beginning, these laws have been questioned. People are quick to point out that India is a country with a booming technology industry, one that relies on young people. There is a fear that restrictions on having children will produce a shortage of the educated young people needed to carry on India’s technological revolution.

There are already well-documented problems with China's one-child policy. Worst of all, there is a gender imbalance resulting from a strong preference for boys. Millions of undocumented children were also born to parents who already had one child. These problems could come to India with the implementation of a two-child policy.

Most importantly, there is increasing evidence that India's birthrate is slowing down to sustainable levels. In 2000, the fertility rate was still a relatively high 3.3 children per woman. By 2016, that number had already fallen to 2.3 children. Furthermore, India's economy was growing 6% per year in the years leading up to 2019, more than enough to support modest population growth.

Some critics also claim that two-child policies are a way to discriminate against Muslims. Since Muslims are more likely to have more than two children, they are also more likely to be barred from office. Muslim fertility rates are somewhat higher than Hindu fertility rates in India, which has created exaggerated fears that Muslims will take over the country. Some believe that the RSS wants to limit family sizes to preserve the current ratio of Hindus to Muslims in India.

A final criticism of two-child policies in India is that the laws violate women's rights. Human rights activists argue that the laws discriminate against women right from birth by encouraging the abortion or infanticide of females. The two-child policies also create incentives for men to divorce their wives and abandon their families if they want to run for political office.

In addition, women in India are often unaware of two-child policies. There have been cases where women with many children try and run for political office, only to be turned away because of laws they didn’t know about.

The Bottom Line

Many Indian local governments, perhaps inspired by China’s one-child policy, have created laws that apply penalties for having more than two children. The laws are heavily criticized in India and abroad. While they are less severe than China's one-child policy, the two-child laws in India are still considered problematic and discriminatory.