India’s government is offering money to couples who delay childbearing, in an attempt to put a lid on the country’s surging population. But for such a family-oriented nation it is a sensitive issue.
Sheetal Jadhav and her husband have promised to honor, obey and keep kids out of the equation, at least for now. If they manage two years without having children, the government will pay them US$110 – a decent amount of cash in rural India.
“The money is important, but I was more worried about my health,” says Sheetal Jadhav. “My hemoglobin levels were very low, and the nurse began giving me medication. Delaying pregnancy made sense to me. Also, I had just married into my husband’s family and didn’t want to have a baby right away.”
In the West Indian town of Satara, four in every five couples have a child within the first year of marriage. However, the health risks there are immense.
“Maternal deaths and infant mortality are quite high,” explained Dr. Archana Khade, who attributed the high number of miscarriages to anemia. “To bring this down, the mother’s health has to be improved before pregnancy. That will help the child as well.”
This is where the government’s ‘honeymoon package’ comes in. Some 2,400 couples have already signed up.
There is more than individual well-being at stake. India is experiencing an unsustainable population surge, pushing it towards being the world’s most populated country. And with the birthrate now having dropped from 17 births per 1,000 people to 15.4, the ‘honeymoon package’ is a proposal that other states are now keen to accept.
However, at village level, the concept is not so easily implemented.
“The biggest hurdle is the elders of the family,” said auxiliary nurse Vaishali Joshi. “Though the newly-weds are willing, their parents are usually against it, due to the social pressure to bear a child right away.”
Such social attitudes are exactly what is dividing the Bapar family.
“There is immense pressure on us,” said Sushil Bapar. “We know the scheme is good but my mother is adamant that we have a child immediately.”
“If they don’t, my neighbors will start asking me: ‘what kind of daughter-in-law have you brought into your house who can’t produce a child?’ Sushil’s mother-in-law Kalpana Bapar said. “They will also start to question my son’s virility. What is the point of 100 dollars if you don’t have social respect?”
While population control remains an emotive issue in family-orientated India, it is hoped that shifting attention towards health and prosperity will help young couples focus on their future instead of society’s traditions.