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 of the policy have created many societal problems in China today.

Despite the problems associated with China’s one-child policy, India has been working for many years now to create their own family planning legislation. As of 2014, 11 Indian states have passed laws to restrict Indian citizens from having no more than two children.

India’s Two-Child Policy

These family planning laws are aimed towards 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 governments have gone a step further: there are laws in some states that create disincentives for non-politicians to have more than two children. Examples of these disincentives include refusal of government rights for the third or higher children, denying health care for mothers and children, denying nutritional supplements for women pregnant with their third or higher child, jail and fines for fathers, a general decrease in social services for large families, and restrictions on government position appointment and promotion.


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 fear that, by restricting the number of children that can be born, there will not be enough educated young people in the next generation to carry on India’s technological revolution.

Critics also argue that the population growth of India will slow down naturally as the country grows richer and becomes more educated. There are already well-documented problems with China’s one-child policy, namely the gender imbalance resulting from a strong preference for boys and millions of undocumented children who were born to parents that already had their one child. These problems risk being replicated in India with the implementation of their two-child policy.

Consequences of Negative Population Growth

By interfering with the birth rate, India faces a future with severe negative population growth, a serious problem that most developed countries are trying to reverse. With negative population growth, the number of old people receiving social services is larger than the young tax base that is paying for the social services. In this case, taxes must be increased and young people risk contributing way more than they will receive in the future.

In China, this problem is known as the 4-2-1 problem (four grandparents, two parents and one child). The 4-2-1 problem places a heavy burden on the child to support his parents and grandparents both directly and indirectly, and so China has made efforts to prevent this by allowing certain families to have additional children. It is something that India will need to consider for the future as well.

Discrimination of Women

A final criticism about India’s two-child policy is that the laws are anti-women. Human rights activists argue that, not only does the law discriminate against women right from birth (through abortion or infanticide of female fetuses and babies), but divorce and familial abandonment are at risk of increasing if a man with a large family wants to run for political office. In addition, women in India are, by and large, uneducated and illiterate and, as such, are often unaware of the two-child policy. There have been cases where women with many children try and run for political office only to be turned away because of a law they didn’t know existed.

The Bottom Line

The Indian government, perhaps inspired by China’s one-child policy, has created a set of laws, varying from state to state, that force politicians to have a maximum of two children to lead by example. The laws are heavily criticized both in India and abroad and, while modified to avoid the negative consequences resulting from China's one-child policy, are still considered problematic and discriminatory.