NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - About 60 percent of Indian women have no access to family planning services, giving them little control over their bodies and slowing efforts to boost human development indicators, said the head of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
Human development indicators cover health, education and living standards.
India, Asia's third-largest economy, is set to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2030. But, despite its impressive economic growth over the last two decades, it has failed to substantially reduce hunger as well as child and maternal mortality rates.
"I think India now has to come to terms with the fact that it has to actively and aggressively address the issue of family planning," said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.
"Even though family planning is seen as one intervention, it is has a multiplier effect," Osotimehin said, adding that providing universal access to family planning reduces maternal mortality by 30 percent.
"When women are empowered with such information, they can make decisions over their bodies - when they want children, how many and at what intervals and they have more ability to work and be economically active."
Conservative, patriarchal attitudes and inadequate spending in public health have meant that only 40 percent of India's women use contraception, while 63,000 women die annually during childbirth due to a lack of reproductive-health services.
According to the United Nations, India is unlikely to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - a framework of eight global targets agreed by U.N. member states--by 2015.
The MDGs include reducing the number of under-five children dying, providing universal access to primary education and reproductive-health services, and reducing the number of women dying in childbirth.
According to latest government figures, one in every 70 pregnant women is at risk of death if she gives birth, while around 20 percent of pregnancies are either unwanted or poorly timed.
Osotimehim, who was in India to review New Delhi's progress on the MDGs, told Alertnet on Monday that authorities needed to reach out to millions more women across the country.
This, he said, meant not just providing family planning services, but ensuring that these services were of "quality", where more choices of contraceptives are on offer and with better information given to those who are unaware of their options.
Editing by Rebekah Curtis