Can the Covid-19 pandemic hurt India’s huge demographic dividend?
There are ways the Covid-19 pandemic may diminish India’s demographic advantage. India needs to fight this like a war.
Social media posts in China frequently talk about India’s advantage in demographics. And such chatter is typical of contemporary Chinese discourse on India — condescending, with a bit of contempt towards the Indian advantage.
But this Covid-19 pandemic may diminish the demographic advantage India may have.
For one, it is severely hurting education in India. An area where India was already fairing bad. Six million children were out of school last year in India because of the direct effects of the pandemic like lock downs.
Secondary effects, like economic contraction means less budget increase for education by the govt. And increased military spending necessitated by adversaries has resulted in more cuts. While many children are dropping out of school because of increased poverty due to the pandemic.
While Covid-19 itself seems benign to children, the long-lasting impact of it on a child’s social, physical, and cognitive development is now being recognized by experts worldwide. A latest report by an organization in India says 375 million children may suffer long-term impacts because of the pandemic.
Children will suffer impacts like being underweight, suffering stunted growth, and losses in economic productivity, according to the report. Like spending on education, the healthcare budget too will suffer for the same reasons. This affects India’s young both directly, and indirectly if parents suffer due to inadequate healthcare.
The most worrisome to me are studies that suggest Covid-19 affects male fertility. One study estimated nearly 10–20% of males who get infected with Covid-19 may have permanent impairment of fertility. Studies also say nearly 50% of men infected with Covid-19 will have lower sperm counts.
While this may at first sound like a boon for a country grappling with population issues, the implications of this are serious for India’s future. In a generation, India will stare at population decline. India will be in no better position than China by the year 2045.
That’s the year when China having reached its peak would stare at a decline because of poor policies of the past like One-child policy. And India, in contrast, will be coming out of its golden decades to be an unstoppable rising power — that’s if Covid-19 hadn’t happened, sparing India’s demographic dividend.
It is imperative for Indian policy makers to come up with plans to not allow Covid-19 to waste India’s demographic dividend. India should look into pouring resources to not just protect the demographic advantage but also to maximize it. This is very important for India’s future growth.
At the same time, this concerning aspect of Covid-19 hurting fertility of the population needs to be looked into by experts and policy makers. Young Covid-19 infected must be surveilled for long term health effects even if they didn’t develop serious disease.
And effects of vaccines, especially inactivated whole virus ones, on fertility must be studied and all fears allayed. To prevent vaccine hesitancy due to such concerns, you know. And get as many young inoculated faster.
Also, for strategic and military planners, here’s a hypothetical question: What if a hostile actor or terror group unleashes a war that destroys India’s demographic dividend and future growth? What if another wave from a new variant hits our Children, our future, severely?
Chief of the Army staff, General Naravane talked of health security of the country. Hope India has a plan to retaliate.