India accounts for over one-sixth of the world’s population in 2019 (1.37 billion out of 7.71 billion) and has grown at an rate (1.2% per year between 2010 and 2019) that is just over the world growth rate (1.2%), according to State of the World Population 2019, the flagship report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
While India’s life expectancy at birth is lower than the world’s (69 years to 72), it scores higher than the global average in terms of access to healthcare during childbirth, and also has a much lower adolescent birth rate. Between 2006 and 2107, 86% of births in India were attended by skilled health personnel, as compared to 79% across the world. India’s maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 174 deaths per lakh live births (down from 448 in 1994) while the global MMR in 2015 was 216. And while 28 of every 1,000 Indian adolescent women (age 15-19) gave birth between 2006 and 2017, the global adolescent birth rate was over one-and-a-half times that of India, at 44 per 1,000. India’s fertility rate in 2019 is 2.3 births per woman, compared to 2.5 worldwide.
Early marriage continues to present a major cultural obstacle to female empowerment and better reproductive rights, the UNFPA report said. “A girl who marries when she is 10 will probably leave school. And because she leaves school, she won’t get the negotiating skills, and she won’t get the specific skills which will allow her to then get a better-paid job,” PTI quoted UNFPA Geneva director Monica Ferro as saying.
China, the world’s most populous country at 1.42 billion, has a population growth rate of 0.5% per year between 2010 and 2019, which is less than half of that in India or in the world.
Concerns and challenges
The report includes, for the first time, data on women’s ability to make decisions over three key areas – sexual intercourse with their partner, contraception use and health care. According to the analysis, the absence of reproductive and sexual rights has a major and negative repercussions on women’s education, income and safety, leaving them “unable to shape their own futures”.
Despite concerns, the UNFPA report highlights that “untold millions” have enjoyed healthier and more productive lives in the 50 years since the agency was founded, thanks to pressure from civil society and governments to dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.
Looking ahead to future challenges, the UN agency highlights the threat to women’s and girls’ reproductive rights posed by emergencies caused by conflict or climate disasters. About 35 million women, girls and young people will need life-saving sexual and reproductive health services this year, as well as services to address gender-based violence, in humanitarian settings, it warns.