Malthusian Paradigm and the Issue of Compulsion in Family Planning

Vasant P. Pethe (Vice‐President, Indian Association for the Study of Population, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Poona‐4, India)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Publication date: 1 June 1982


Use of the Malthusian Paradigm for Justification of Compulsory Family Planning One of the most important issues in the contemporary debate concerning population policy has been the question of compulsion in family planning (or more specifically, compulsory sterilisation) for the quantitative control of population. The present‐day demographic scene in the Third World is characterised as one of “population explosion”. It is argued that despite the spread of family planning and the recent trends towards decline in fertility among two‐thirds of the populations of the developing countries, the burden of the population problem in terms of the requirements on the eve of the 21st century is not going to be light, considering the limited and fast depleting resources of this slender globe. Hence, pressures have been mounting from various quarters towards more and more stringent measures converging on coercion to control the family size and population growth in the low‐income countries. For example, during the Emergency in India (1975–77), it was felt by the then Government (under the prime ministership of Mrs Indira Gandhi), the ruling Congress Party and some groups and individuals that the time had come to put the population problems of the country on a war footing and adopt drastic measures such as compulsory sterilisation to meet the hydra‐headed scourge of over‐population. In fact, the Government of Maharashtra, a state within the Union of India, went a step further and pioneered for the first time in history a bill on the compulsory sterilisation of eligible persons, for introduction in the State Legislative Assembly which passed a revised version of this bill (1976). To support and justify compulsion in family planning, various arguments — scientific and pseudo‐scientific — are usually made. At the head of all the arguments is most distinctly the Malthusian — or rather the neo‐Malthusian — argument. The novelty of the Malthusian argument made is that it is advanced this time to present a justification, not for the mere control of population by some voluntary means, but for a strict regulation of the size of each family in society through the instrumentality of physical force having the sanction of the law of the land and having penal provisions for the defaulters. It is the major concern of this essay to examine whether and how far the Malthusian paradigm is relevant, adequate and correct, vis‐à‐vis the issue of compulsion in family planning. What exactly is the basis of the neo‐Malthusian position on compulsion? Would Malthus, if he were amongst us, have supported compulsory family planning for the reasons which generally go under the caption of Malthusianism? Is the issue of compulsion in family planning so narrow as to be capable of being fully tackled by the Malthusian paradigm? These are some of the important questions which are sought to be explored in the short space available for this article.


Pethe, V. (1982), "Malthusian Paradigm and the Issue of Compulsion in Family Planning", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 9 No. 6/7, pp. 63-71.

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Copyright © 1982, MCB UP Limited

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