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Population bill meets with criticism

Kerala Christians, Muslims say proposal is an infringement of parental rights

September 27, 2011

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Christians and Muslims have condemned a proposed law aimed at controlling Kerala’s population, which envisages a fine of 10,000 rupees (US$200) or three months in jail for having more than two children. The Kerala Women's Code Bill, drafted by a committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, also recommends couples violating the two-child norm be barred from receiving social benefits from the government. Another possible clause would bar religious and political organisations from discouraging family planning. The Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council (KCBC) has called the draft “anti-democratic and an infringement on the parental rights of the people.” This is the first time an Indian state has recommended legal action against big families. Kerala’s 33.3 million people account for less than four percent of India’s total population of 1.21 billion. KCBC spokesman Father Stephen Alathara said yesterday that the draft was an attempt to “undermine family values and divide society along communal lines”. “We have been promoting anti-abortion and encouraging people to have big families,” he said. A parish in Wayanad district is now offering fixed-rate deposits of 10,000 rupees, held in the name of the fifth child in a family that is born this year. The government however is proposing cash incentives of 5,000 rupees to women who marry after the age of 19 and will recommend facilities for free and safe abortions. The Syro-Malabar Church, which issued a pastoral letter last year appealing to the faithful to have more children, described the draft as “draconian and anti-Church.” The Orthodox and Jacobite churches have also condemned it. Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, the Catholicos of the Orthodox Church based in Kottayam, warned the government of dire consequences if the bill is passed. Muslim organizations are also angry. “It’s an attempt to curtail religious freedom and faith.  We will oppose it,” said Abdul Samad Pukkottur, of the state Sunni Youth Federation. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said resentment against the draft law is unwarranted. “Government will make a decision only after consulting with all groups. We have taken note of the protests against the draft,” he added. Related reports: Kerala sponsors baby boom

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