Wednesday, March 18, 2015

To realize Sikkim’s falling fertility rate, check enrolment figures at ICDS centres and Govt schools

Much has been made of the falling enrolment figures at the Integrated Child Development Scheme centres [for toddler] and in Government schools in rural areas. Many have blamed the mushrooming of private schools even in rural areas for this drop in enrolment numbers, and while they might not be completely wrong, a substantial contributing factor is also the fact that Sikkim now has fewer children per family than perhaps at any time in its history. Fertility rate - the number of children an average woman is likely to have during her childbearing years, conventionally taken to be 15-49 – in Sikkim, as per the Census of 2011, is lower than even population replacement levels.
Take the case of the ICDS centre at Ranka in East Sikkim which had enrolled 12 children last year. The number is down to eight for the 2015-16 session. The Centre, which provides primary health services for 0-6 age group children and their mothers, has around 50 households in the area falling in its jurisdiction. The past year, no children were born in any of the 50 families!
A primary school at nearby Lingdum under Rey-Mindu GPU had 56 students in the last academic session. Usually, as some children graduate out, they are replaced by more children enrolling at the entry-level classes. At this primary school however, the enrolled strength has instead fallen to 50 this year. The school caters to children from more than three wards.
“Around 10 years back, our school had a strength of more than 100 students with at least two students, if not more, from a family enrolled in our school,” shares the Headmaster of the school. He adds that he has noticed that of late families are becoming smaller, with the younger couples opting to have only one child. With that being the case, they can afford to send that child to a private school, he adds.
While Aganwadi workers as well as the teachers agree that mushrooming of private schools is one of the factors responsible for decline in enrolment, they accept that there are also fewer children around to enroll.
“Our centre is supposed to take care and give non formal education to children upto 6 years of age but as more and more families have only one child, the parents enroll them in private schools at the age of three or less,” observes an Aganwadi worker.
And the statistics bear out their observations.
As per the National Family Health Survey III [2005-06] figures compiled in 2011, Sikkim’s Total Fertility Rate stands at 2.02. As mentioned earlier, fertility rate is a hypothetical, almost conjectural number, which represents the number of children an average woman is likely to have during her childbearing years, conventionally taken to be 15-49. It is not the same as the birth rate, which is the number of children born in a year as a share of the total population.
If there were no early deaths, the replacement rate would be 2.0 (actually, fractionally higher because fewer girls are born than boys). Two parents are replaced by two children. But a daughter may die before her childbearing years, so the figure has to allow for early mortality. Since child mortality is higher in under-developed areas, the replacement fertility rate is higher there. In the developed world, replacement fertility rate is about 2.1. In poor ones it can go over 3.0. The global average is 2.33.
The Fertility Rate for Sikkim in the year 1998-99 was recorded at 2.75, substantially higher than the current rate of 2.02 which is lower than even the replacement fertility rate.
The Census figures also show a decline in the Decadal Population Growth Rate [DPGR]. In the decade of 1991-2001, the DPGR percentage was 32.98 which has fallen to 12.36 percent in 2001-2011. Similarly, the perentage of Average Annual exponential growth rate in 1991-2001 was 2.85 which reduced to 1.17 percent in 2001-2011.
The fall in the fertility rate could be because of the improved consciousness of modern parents.
“When I was a child, advertisement on television used to say hum do hamarey do. Now the mantra has changed to hum do hamarey ek,” said a father of a Class III student of Holy Cross School. According to him his income and his wife dedication can afford good education and proper care for only one child, and that is what they have opted for.
Such developments could also be the reason why the percentage of the child population [age group of 0-6 years] has also reduced in Sikkim to 10.05 percent of the total population in the 2011 Census compared to its strength of 14.28 percent in 2001.
It is also an accepted fact that fertility starts to drop as incomes and living standards go up, roughly tracking the passage from poverty to middle-income status and from an agrarian society to a modern one. Macroeconomic research has also established that a link between living standards and fertility exists within countries, too. Bihar, for instance, has a fertility rate of 4, while the richer Tamil Nadu and Kerala have rates below 2. Shanghai has had a fertility rate of less than 1.7 since 1975; in Guizhou, China's poorest province, the rate is 2.2.
While one can look at Sikkim’s low fertility rate as evidence as much of more conscious couples as a sign of prosperity, what cannot be lost sight of either is that every society moving towards a one-child scenario or fewer children in general terms runs the risk of skewing the sex-ratio. Although statistics show that fewer girls are born than boys, it is also a sad reality that infant mortality is also higher among girls. Should disturbing practices like female feticide also come in, as has happened in Haryana, sever imbalances could occur. Sikkim already has too many more males than females - Census 2011 shows an improvement in Sex Ratio (Females per 1000 males) at 889 compared to 875 in 2001. Sikkim will be well advised to create adequate checks and balances in place in advance as the fewer children family concept gains ground here.
In fact, this could be one of the reasons why the Health Minister, AK Ghatani, speaking at the State Supervisory Board Meeting on Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques [PC & PNDT] Act 1994 recently, suggested the constitution of a closed working group to strictly monitor private clinical establishments [against sex determination tests] especially in urban and semi-urban areas and called for strict action against the offenders.

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