Calling population control

Amongst the 1800 workers at a New Delhi call centre taking calls for US retail and technology companies are 17 graduates handling enquiries on birth control. Placed there to make their “socially sensitive work” invisible, the mainly female workers are paid by India’s National Population Stabilisation Fund - a name that needs no further explanation. The Washington Post gives a run-down on India’s 1 billion-plus population, quoting officials who say it will take some Indian states 18 to 45 years to achieve the stabilising fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. As a matter of fact some states must be below replacement already, as the national fertility rate is already down to 2.76.

The National Population Stabilisation Fund’s executive director speaks of “empowering” callers with answers to their queries about contraception and related issues, but power to the people is clearly not the main motive of this -- and other -- population control strategies. And the effects can be drastic: badly-skewed sex ratios in favour of males in some states are largely the result of ultrasound scanning and abortion.

Many calls are made by cellphone and are said to be from areas outside big cities where there are few “health-care and social workers”. When the centre opened in June 2008 it received almost 800 calls a day, but slowly the number declined to 250 a day. Staff blame this on the service not being toll-free. If it were free, says one agent, the calls could go up to 1000 a day. ~ Washington Post, Jan 5



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