Data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shows that Muslims have seen the sharpest decline in fertility rates among all religious communities in the past two decades.
Taking into account the decline seen in the last few years, the fertility rate of the community fell to 2.3 in 2019-2021 from 2.6 in 2015-16. While all religious communities have shown a decline in fertility, contributing to the decline in the country’s total fertility rate, the decline has been sharpest in the Muslim community, from 4.4 in NFHS 1 (1992–93) to NFHS 5 (2019-) has dropped to 2.3. 2021).
In NFHS 5, the country’s total fertility fell below the replacement level of two children per woman, falling from 2.2 in NFHS 4.
However, the fertility rate of the Muslim community remains the highest among all religious communities, with the Hindu community at 1.94 in NFHS 5, down from 2.1 in 2015-16. The fertility rate of the Hindu community in 1992-93 was 3.3. NFHS 5 found that the Christian community had a fertility rate of 1.88, the Sikh community 1.61, the Jain community 1.6, and the Buddhist and Neo-Buddhist communities 1.39—the lowest rates in the country.
The fertility rate of Muslims has declined twice sharply – between 1992-93 and 1998-99, as well as between 2005-6 and 2015-16, when it declined by 0.8 points.
“The fertility gap between Hindus and Muslims is narrowing. High fertility is mostly the result of non-religious factors such as literacy levels, employment, income and access to health services. The current difference between the two communities is due to the disadvantage of Muslims on these parameters. Over the past few decades, an emerging Muslim middle class is realizing the value of girls’ education and family planning,” said Poonam Mutreja,
Executive Director of Population Foundation of India, a non-governmental organization.
The percentage of Muslim women who did not attend school declined from 32 per cent in NFHS 4 (2015-16) to 21.9 per cent in NFHS-5 (2019-21). In contrast, for Hindus, it saw a slight change – from 31.4 per cent in NFHS 4 to 28.5 per cent in NFHS 5.
The NFHS 5 report states that the number of children per woman declined with the level of schooling for women. Women with no schooling have an average of 2.8 children, compared to 1.8 children for women with 12 or more years of schooling. The report found that women in the lowest wealth quintile have on average 1.0 more children than women in the highest wealth quintile, and economic well-being leads to lower fertility rates.
“The data also shows that Muslims are becoming more aware of family planning. The use of modern contraception among Muslims increased from 37.9 percent in NFHS 4 to 47.4 percent in NFHS 5. The difference in growth was greater than that of Hindus,” Muttreja said.
Muslims have also increasingly adopted modern methods of contraception – from 17 percent in NFHS 4 to 25.5 in NFHS 5, the third highest after Sikhs (27.3 percent) and Jains (26.3 percent). Spacing refers to how soon after pregnancy a woman gives birth again.
“A higher percentage of Muslim men showed a better attitude towards family planning. About 32 percent of Muslim men think contraception is a women’s business that men shouldn’t worry about. The number was higher for Hindus – around 36 per cent. According to NFHS 5, the use of contraceptive pills is highest among Muslims, while condom use is the third highest among Muslims after Sikhs and Jains. Thus, it is important to recognize the adoption of family planning by the community and recognize that Islam is in no way a hindrance to family planning.
Muslim populations in Indonesia and Bangladesh have also seen low fertility due to the high number of spacing methods in their public health systems. India needs to do more and expand its basket of contraceptive options and include implants in its family planning programme,” Mutreja said.
The total fertility rate in rural areas has come down from 3.7 children per woman in 1992-93 to 2.1 children in 2019-21. The corresponding decline among women in urban areas was from 2.7 children in 1992-93 to 1.6 children in 2019-21. In all NFHS versions, regardless of habitat, fertility rates peak at 20–24 years of age, after which there is a steady decline.
Thirty-one states and union territories, including all states in the South, West and Northern regions, have fertility below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Bihar and Meghalaya have the highest fertility rates in the country, while Sikkim and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have the lowest.
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