Contraceptives are necessary for couples and individuals to decide for themselves the timing and spacing of children. When women do not have access to contraceptives they are forced to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortions. Without contraceptive information and services, women cannot plan or prevent pregnancy. Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies can cause mental and physical anguish and have been linked to domestic violence, severe pregnancy-related injuries and maternal mortality – grave violations of a woman’s right to life. Unwanted pregnancies also create immense financial strain for women who either pay for medical termination of pregnancy out of pocket or struggle to provide for their large families.
Access to contraceptive information and services are recognised as a right by international human rights standards. India was amongst the first country to adopt a family planning policy after the ICPD, which mandates for providing a basket of contraceptive choices. By all these provisions the state is obligated to provide the information and a wide variety of contraceptive choices to its population. Still the contraceptive use in India is recorded at 56% only. Women do not have access to the information or contraceptive services that facilitate autonomous decisions about pregnancy and reproduction.
India’s family planning policy as well the state governments’ focus remains on population control and do not recognise the autonomy and rights of an individual. Point in case, while female sterilisations; a permanent method of birth control accounts for 75% of the total contraceptive use the modern spacing methods stand at 10% only. While the awareness and knowledge level of modern spacing methods is very low, female sterilisation are being relentlessly promoted by the state. Moreover, it is the marginalised women, who become the targets of these forced sterilisations.
Contraceptives are enablers for individuals and couples to enjoy and ascertain their reproductive freedom. It is further very crucial for enabling women in making decisions regarding their body and lead a life of development. The government must approach the access of contraceptives as the right of individuals, giving them autonomy over their reproductive choices rather than discriminately controlling their reproductive decisions.
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