In this Maharashtra district, newly married couples get paid to delay having children.
Honeymoon packages are usually associated with the heady days after a wedding. Not for those living in Satara, a district in the western region of Maharashtra. The Satara Honeymoon Package is a project whose aim is to reduce the district’s population through the participation of newly-weds.
The scheme was introduced by the Satara Zilla Parishad three years ago. It tracks down newly wed couples and introduces them to a family planning scheme with a cash incentive; couples who delay their first child for two years are rewarded with Rs 5,000 in cash. A third year gets them Rs 7,500.
Moreshwar and Jana Patil have been married for two years. Though they were keen on “planning a family”, once they heard of the Satara Honeymoon Package, they decided to enroll. “This way, we get money to plan our child’s birth. It is a great incentive,” says Jana.
So far, over 5,000 couples from Satara have enrolled in this scheme. Their enthusiasm is reflected in the birth rate, which has crashed from 16.7 per cent in 2005 to 1.5 per cent in July 2010. So successful is this project that the Maharashtra government has ordered it to be replicated elsewhere.
According to the Satara district health officer Bhagwan Pawar, “It is purely a voluntary scheme.” Started with a corpus of Rs 6 crore on 15 August 2007, the scheme saw about 988 couples enroll in the first year. The numbers have been steadily growing since, Pawar points out. “In the past three years, the Satara district administration has issued cheques worth Rs 26 lakh.”
Auxiliary nurses visit couples to discuss the scheme as soon as they hear of a wedding in the neighbourhood. This isn’t easy, with over 30,000 weddings registered in Satara every year. It’s also not uncommon for volunteers to face the wrath of family elders for making the suggestion. “The elders want the daughter-in-law to have a child in the first year of marriage itself. If this does not happen, then they often harass the daughter-in-law,” says Rekha Kanem, an employee of a primary health centre at Chinchner Vandan.
Another benefit is that couples say they get to know their spouses better during the ‘waiting period’.