According to latest estimates of the United Nations, the current population of India is 1.3 billion as of July 2016. India constitutes 2.4 per cent of the geographical area of the world and supports 17.84 per cent of the world population. The population density of India today stands at 446 (1,156 people per sq mile) in comparison of 117 persons per sq km in 1951. With 356 million people between age of 10-24 year, India has the world’s largest young population despite having a smaller population than China. With 269 million young people, China has second largest young population followed by Indonesia (67 million), US (65 million), Pakistan (59 million), Nigeria (57 million), Brazil (51 million), and Bangladesh (48 million), as per the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population report. In 1989, the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommended that 11 July be observed by the international community as World Population Day.
Rising to the occasion, this year India ratified its commitment to utilize its vast young population and enable transformation towards a healthy India mandate, focusing closely on teenage girls. This year’s International Population Day reiterates this thought in its theme ‘Investing in teenage girl’, as mentioned by the Indian premier, Narendara Modi at South Africa on July 8, 2016.
About 32 per cent of the population of India is urban (429,802,441 people in 2016). The north-eastern region mapped the lowest density, while the southern region had highest density consistently until 1991 census. Thereafter the eastern region occupied the highest density category in the country. Several studies have been claiming that India has been passing through a slow but steady demographic transition. The growth rate of population has declined from 25 in 1971-81 to 18 per cent in 2001-2011. Regional variations in demographic transition is very prominent as southern states like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh are ahead compared to many northern states namely Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Governmental reports also show that Himachal Pradesh has shown a faster decline in total fertility rate in recent years as compared to its neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.
Health is a critical ingredient of human development. India’s population composition has witnessed a significant change with decline in mortality that began in the 1920s, followed by subsequent fertility decline since 1970s due to government’s family planning initiative. India’s birth rate declined from about 45 per 1000 population at the time of independence to 21 in 2013. The total fertility rate was 2.4 in 2012 and expected to achieve replacement level very soon. On the other hand, due to increased awareness about health measures, control of the communicable diseases and improvement in public health, mortality declined over the last several decades, and life expectancy increased from about less than 40 years at the time of independence to 67 years now.
However, as far as children and youth are concerned, several concerns need urgent attention. Child labour, violence and sexual exploitation are few of the prominent ills that plague the nation. Three approaches are suggested to deal with the child labour – providing support to the distressed family, overhauling the education system and advocacy. In slums, the children are made to work in various economic enterprises, pushed by their poor socio-economic condition, leading to their exploitation. Teenage girls are prepared for marriage and motherhood much before they are ready for it by anxious parents and relatives. Many are forced to quit school, damaging their future prospects. These challenges are exacerbated among marginalized girls, such as members of ethnic minorities or those living in poverty stricken or remote areas. Child marriage has many negative consequences such as poor health status of girls along with higher risk of domestic violence, maternal and infant mortality.
The easiest way to deal with this is to utilize India’s vast youth population for democratic dividend through skill development. Some of the earnest ways in which this can be done is as follows:
a. Involvement of young researchers for public policy: Researchers should become advisers of government departments. It is necessary to link 69,000 UGC/AICTE research fellows of MA, M.Phil and Ph.D in public policy. They could be asked to submit research findings to the government in stipulated formats as a policy-briefing document. Students and researchers should be encouraged to communicate their field based research results to policy makers and community.
b. National service by youth (NCC, scouts and NSS): Youth should do one year community services’ in attachment with military and para-military forces or civil administration to fulfill the societal need such as Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, disaster risk reduction, water harvesting, outreach for immunization programmes and nutrition, COP 21 framed forest plantation, sustainable development goals and more. Youth through National Youth Peace Force (NYPF) could extend their hands in peacekeeping processes through addressing the problems related with inter-caste marriage, honour killings, communal tensions and crime against women and children.
c. Imparting skills to boost ‘Make in India’: India needs to develop its manufacturing sector, which can serve as the future driving factor for the Indian economy. The vast young population needs to be trained in certain trades to make them significant contributors to the growth of the nation. There should be wholehearted effort to achieving this through the government initiated Skill India Programme and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY).
To achieve its goal India should invest substantial funding in youth for health, education and skill enhancement to harness demographic dividend with a view to contribute towards ‘Make in India’ for sustainable economic growth. India contributes only 1.3 per cent of total GDP for health and family planning, as compared to the 4.7 per cent invested by Brazil. Raising the age at marriage, provision of basic education, and enhancement in women work participation, provisions of free maternal and child health care and access to family planning services needs to be urgently undertaken. Population science policy interface is the need of the hour. Huge youth resources need to be utilized in nation building, societal development and achieving sustainable development goals in spatial perspectives.