The United Nations had recently estimated that the world population will reach eight billion by Nov 15 i.e. today. However, Mumbai presents a contrasting picture as the city has recorded a 23.65% decrease in total number of births recorded post-Covid outbreak in 2019.
Hence, contradicting the popular belief that the population rose at a time when the pandemic was at its peak. According to the data accessed by The Free Press Journal, Mumbai recorded 1,48,898 births in 2019 followed by 1,20,188 in 2020. The figure dropped further to 1,13,669 in 2021. Till September this year, the city saw 94,117 births.
A glimmer of hope coincides with the UN projection as there is expectation of the birth rate rising marginally this year. Known as baby bust, such declines are not the new normal as they have been witnessed in the past, too, after the catastrophic events such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 influenza pandemic.
In the same manner, Covid has disrupted the population growth by casting a shadow on people’s finances. It has not just hit the poor section of the society–whichusuallytendsto have more than two kids–but has forced the middle and upper class to rethink family planning, reasoned gynaecologists. Underlining that thedecline isn’t surprising, civic officials conceded that very less births have been recorded in the last 10 years.
BMC Executive Health Officer Dr Mangla Gomare said, “The city has witnessed only 4-5 lakh of live births in the last 10 years. Moreover, the current population of Mumbai is not more than 1.39 crore. We have witnessedadrasticdropinthedeliveries in slums. We believe thatasmanymigrantmothers haven’t returned hence the live birth rate remained low even in 2021.” Another reason which can be attributed to the city’s baby bust is Covid-induced migration.
Dubbed as the largest movement of people post India’s partition, we allhave seen the visuals of poor helpless labourers taking more than 1,000km journeys onfoot. Also, the labour force has grown wary after suffering unthinkable hardships during the first and second Covid waves. After the flattening of the pandemic curve, though many men returned in 2021, they have left their wives backhome.
This statement can be statistically corroborated by the fact that almost 40% of the city’s population lives in densely populated slums, as per 2011 census. When the pandemic started, many slums such as Worli Koliwada in G-South ward (Elphinstone) and Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, in G-North ward turned into hotspots of the infection. Some of these are also home to the migrant population.
By January 2021, when Mumbai washit by the second wave, a large number of pregnant mothers opted for home deliveries with the help of midwives, especially in slums, to avoid going to hospitals and exposing themselves to the virus. The BMC data shows that 353 home deliveries were reported in 2019; which dropped to 256 in 2020 but the figure again rose to 420 last year. The BMC data also showed that the number of abortions in 2021 had dropped to around 28,000 in comparison to 35,000 abortions recordedinpre-pandemic times.
“Meanwhile, the decreasing birth rate has also beenobserved to be a part of achangeinsociety. With the increase in the cost of living and education, we can notice that people from all strata of society and economic classes are opting for a single child nowadays. This is one of the major reasons that there is an overall decrease inbirthrate,” said a senior gynaecologist.
Another gynaecologist from Sion Hospital–which records the highest annual deliveries in the city–said, “Times have changed and with late marriages, many conceive late. All of these contribute to lower birth rates. It will continue to go lower for a few more years postthe pandemic as well.”