Since, family planning has been enunciated as a human right in the UN Charter, reiterated in all international and regional human rights agreements, and now brought to focus by the theme for World Population Day 2018, ‘Family Planning is a Human Right’, according to ARC coalition statement to mark the celebration of World Population Day 2018 on 11 July.
Access to contraceptive information is fundamental to achieving gender equality and we need to stress the importance of male engagement for a successful family planning programme, according to ARC coalition statement.
Advocating Reproductive Choices (ARC) is a coalition of more than 170 civil society organisations and individuals that are committed to advocating for greater attention and focus on sexual and reproductive health issues and family planning services in India. Established in 2005, the coalition aims to expand contraceptive choices and call for greater attention to the quality of care of family planning services for the Indian population. ARC is comprised of organisations that have technical ability and implementation expertise in reproductive health and family planning.
ARC makes concerted and sustained advocacy efforts to enhance accessibility and expand contraceptive choices available to all women in India. The ARC Core Committee oversees strategic decisions and plans made by the coalition. There are five state chapters of ARC in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In 2005 its first Secretariat was with Parivar Seva Sansthan (PSS). In 2007 Family Planning Association of India became the next Secretariat. Since, 2015 Population Foundation of India is holding the ARC Secretariat.
India’s commitment at the FP2020 platform to expand access to Family Planning services has also provided an impetus to FP, resulting in the introduction of new contraceptives and progrmmes such as the Mission Parivar Vikaas to increase the availability and accessibility of commodities and services. However, with approximately 13 per cent of currently married women between the ages of 15 and 49 who have an unmet need for spacing or limiting births, India has the largest number of women with unmet need for contraception in the world.
The International Conference on Human Rights held in 1968, was the first to embed family planning in legislative language when they stated, “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.”
India holds the legacy of introducing the first ever family planning programme in 1952. However, it was only in 1994, when India became a signatory to the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, that we shifted focus to a rights-based approach that valued people and their welfare more than meeting a population target. Since then there have been several changes in the policy and programmes for Family Planning in India.
Access to family planning has been associated with women’s empowerment and advancing women’s status in society; women’s literacy, age of marriage, and participation in the workforce which contribute to their decision making powers. However, in India, the emphasis of family planning has been skewed against women with the focus being on female sterilisation. India’s reliance on modern contraceptives for spacing births is also low, with a 1.5 per cent uptake of IUDs, 4.1 per cent women reliant on the pill, and 5.6 per cent males who use condoms.
Furthermore, India's Family Planning program, based on demographic principles, focuses on married couples, and specifically on married women. There is a need for an enabling environment where every individual in the reproductive age group, irrespective of age or marital status, can openly seek and access quality family planning services. Availability, accessibility and quality of services need to be universally ensured to achieve the desired result. We must reinforce our existing strategies and foster innovations in the arena of family planning, while keeping in mind an individual’s right to choose whether, when and how many children to have.
More importantly, there is also a need to expand the definition of Family Planning is broader beyond only contraception. The right to choices and treatment options that help an infertile couple to have a baby are yet not a part of primary health care.
Therefore, the Family Planning programme needs to be broad based to fulfill these rights. This implies a great deal of responsibility on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and equally on civil societies and private sector to play a catalytic role in ensuring provision of quality FP services and empowering the present and future generation in their decision making process.