Unbridled population: A ticking challenge

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By Senator Sehar Kamran

“If we want to rise as a nation we need to value human development indicators and formulate policies that ensure sustainable growth and development of the country. Investing in target oriented policies from a future perspective is a trump card to save the future generation from vices of poverty and terrorism.”

Population growth is at the heart of all global problems and is a matter of grave concern to control before the world run out of space and resources. As believed by Malthus, “population control is necessary for humanity in order to overtake the world’s carrying capacity.” The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new United Nations report. This calls for addressing population challenge in a broader framework. The developed world has made some remarkable progress in controlling their population growth; however some countries in the developing part of the world are struggling to infuse the rational of family planning.

Unchecked population growth and lack of an effective policy framework are among the serious challenges faced by Pakistan. The phenomena of population growth inadvertently effects states’ plan to strike self-sufficiency in different human development indicators. Not surprisingly, Pakistan is ranked 150th in the Human Development Index (HDI) with close to 29.5 percent of the population living below the poverty line. As rightly identified, “one of the biggest worries of Pakistan’s young population is not terrorism but ‘insecurity of jobs, justice and economic inflation.” With thousands of new-borns added to the population each day, even this ranking on the development index would be hard to sustain. To pursue on the path of sustainable development, Pakistan as a state needs to revisit its approach towards population control. Population Planning has to be treated as a priority because of two main reasons i.e. correlation between population growth and resource management and secondly, for maximizing the outcome of development efforts.

The struggling economy as that of Pakistan with poor health and development indicators is lagging behind in addressing the needs of its population and provision of better facilities and opportunities. The main reason behind this poor functioning can be attributed to weak governance strategies and certain cultural and religious restraints. Pakistan at the moment is struggling with the placement of its surplus and unemployed manpower for whom basic human and fundamental rights are no more than luxuries. This mismanagement of manpower is making the situation more alarming as such segment of the society is more susceptible to criminal activities and exposure to extremist ideologies. To counter these worsening outcomes and to steer the population to a sustainable future is a foremost duty of the state as well as a shared responsibility that can only be addressed by keeping all relevant stakeholders on the board.

The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (UN 1994) implied that policies and programmes should not focus only on population numbers and growth rates. It argued instead for an integrated approach linking population action to development, including human development, women’s empowerment, gender equality and the needs of young people. It was the sixth five year developmental plan of Pakistan that demonstrated the interaction of fertility management with other development programs. The plan illustrates that population welfare and planning is a national responsibility.

An overview of the five year developmental plans of Pakistan will give us an insight into the steps already taken and the causes of their failure. It is of no doubt that population planning has remained part and parcel of each developmental plan; however its weak implementation in the absence of proper plan of action has remained an issue at large. Keeping in view the basic hurdles in the implementation of population control measures, a target oriented approach is the need of the time to address the specific nature of hurdles both in a rational and culturally acceptable manner. Other than this collaborative approach of governance between the state, society, community building institutions and inclusion of new and modern techniques and tools of population control can aid countries struggling with the challenge of population growth.

A mix of ethics, cultural and religious values and practices is making the scenario complicated. Such societal complications disrupt the provision of sexual and reproductive education and services. Family planning has served as a traditional and cost-effective model but in case of Pakistan it has not been strengthened over the period of time. This policy implementation gap is further pushing Pakistan in the midst of crisis on other fronts as well. Government goals for family planning shall also be defined in terms of unmet needs for information and services. To create a broader understanding in the domain of family planning and population growth there is a need to develop population control narrative from a multiple lens. This narrative can then be infused in the society through social, political, legal and economic incentives and interventions.

Keeping in view the socio-cultural settings of Pakistan a community based approach would be more effective to bridge the gap of understanding between rural and urban areas. The second most important social measure is to educate the girls and ensure gender equality. As said, “If you educate a girl, you educate a whole nation.” The education will enable the girls to determine their rights and use their freedom in family planning. Thirdly, Public awareness programs, seminars at the educational platform with equal representation from the religious scholars would serve as a most effective tool in promoting a population control narrative. The ‘Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’ (PEMRA) can play a central role in the diffusion of knowledge, awareness regarding the effective use of contraceptives and run programs that promote the population growth narrative. Monetary and health and educational incentives can complement the family planning and population control program.

There is now global recognition that the effectiveness of programmes promoting reproductive health and rights depends critically on broader health system issues which affect both the demand for and the supply of health services. Public-Private partnerships can also play a dominant role in collectively addressing the challenge of population explosion. It is a growing belief that partnership between public and private sectors can lead to increased efficiency, equality, accountability, quality, and accessibility in the health system. Monetary and health incentives can complement the family planning and population control program. National action plan on population control is required to be introduced in order to train our human resource and match skills to the available opportunities.

It is imperative for Pakistani legislatures to take a leadership role in complementing and reinforcing the above mentioned recommendations. For example the Government of Pakistan can take an initiative in introducing a legislation on the size of the family, just like what is happening in other highly populous Asian countries such as China and India. Legislations based on rights based population policies and restriction on child marriages can add to the practicality of the efforts made.

To address population challenge in Pakistan, the government of Pakistan must strive to put in order a regulatory framework of policies that address the determinants of the population control and family planning accordingly. The population control tools that can prove to be effective are termed as education for all, ensuring gender equality through proper legislation, increased awareness and modernization of technical and delivery services. Other than addressing the challenge of population control, Pakistan as a state has to keep in mind its international obligations as well i.e. the fulfillment of the criteria stipulated in the sustainable development goals (SDG). Measures taken to control population will help Pakistan climb up the ladder in the status of SDGs.

To pursue on the path of sustainable development, Pakistan as a state needs to revisit its approach towards population control.

(The writer is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and member of the Senate Forum for Policy Research (SFPR) from 2018-2021. She has also served as a member Senate of Pakistan for the term 2012-2018.)