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Indian Christians fret over declining population growth

Trend for smaller families, migration contributing to falling number of Christians in Hindu-majority country

A woman walks past a mural of a mother cradling her newborn baby in Mumbai, India.

Catholics attend evening Mass on Maundy Thursday at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hyderabad on April 1, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 18, 2022 02:53 AM GMT

Updated: June 18, 2022 03:01 AM GMT

Christians in India are concerned after a federal government report recorded a decline in the fertility rate among the community leading to a further reduction in their population.

According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) report, the total fertility rate (TFR) among Christians declined to 1.88 percent in 2019-21 from 2.87 percent in 1992-93.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of the more than 1.3 billion population, according to the 2011 national census, but the community fears that their population will decline further.

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Archbishop Sebastian Kallupura of Patna in Bihar state in eastern India said many families are going nuclear.

“We generally see a trend among the educated people from the community to opt for small families, unlike in the past when larger families were the norm,” Archbishop Kallupura, chairman of the family commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), told UCA News.

“The high cost of living coupled with lack proper employment has forced families to restrict their number of children.” 

“Many dioceses are doing whatever possible to promote larger families, even offering free education and other assistance to parents having three or more children”

The NFHS report also showed a decline in the population of major religious communities such as Muslims and Hindus.

The TFR among Muslims now stands at 2.36 percent compared to 4.41 in 1992-93. Muslims, who account for 14.2 percent of the population, are the second largest religious group in the country.

Hindus, the largest religious community who make up more than 80 percent of the population, have a TFR of 1.94 percent, down from 3.3 percent in 1992-93.

The national TFR, according to the recently released survey, is 2.0 children per woman, a decline from 2.2 in the 2015-16 survey.

The fertility rate is the average number of children a woman will have before the end of her child-bearing years and is an important factor in population growth.

Government officials, however, say that population growth or decline has nothing to do with religion. They attributed the decline in population growth to economic and social empowerment of the people.

Pathanamthitta in Kerala state in southern India, home to an affluent Syrian Christian community, recorded the lowest population growth in the 1961 census, said an official who added that economic and social empowerment would lead to small families and thus a decline in population growth.

"Those who migrate to Western counties never return, which is another reason for the reduction of our population"

“It is a matter of serious concern for the Church,” Father Milton Gabriel Gonsalves, executive secretary of the family commission of the CCBI, told UCA News.

“Many mothers do not want to have children early leading to complications in the future. Many stick to one child. Modernization too has played a key role in the decline of our population. Many women prioritize their career rather than having children, especially in urban areas. The number of children has declined in rural areas too. Earlier an average family in rural areas used to have at least five children but today it has come down to two or three.

“Many dioceses are doing whatever possible to promote larger families, even offering free education and other assistance to parents having three or more children.” 

Father Jacob Palackappilly, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, told UCA News that rampant migration, lack of facilities for quality higher education and unemployment have led to the decline of the Christian population.

“Migration to other countries is high among Christian and Hindu youths compared to other religious communities in India. Those who migrate to Western counties never return, which is another reason for the reduction of our population,” said the priest.

The Church is encouraging Catholic couples to have more children despite calls for population control to reduce India’s huge population.

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