Pakistan: Coordinated efforts urged to check population growth

May 24, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

Greetings from Pakistan. I am traveling here with my longtime friend, Mehtab Karim, to explore setting up a Population Media Center program. Mehtab and I have known each other since we attended the International Youth Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, just before the first World Population Conference. He is now the Senior Research Advisor at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life at the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. The Pew Research Center recently released a report on “Mapping the World Muslim Population” to which Mehtab made a major contribution: He also chairs the Population Association of Pakistan.

The population of Pakistan is 184 million, and the population doubling time is 30 years. Slowing population growth is necessary to reduce poverty and poor health and to improve the quality of life in Pakistan. While the fertility rate is 4.0, the mean desired number of children among currently married women is 4.1. It is clear that role modeling small family norms is one of the keys to changing demographic trends in Pakistan.

According to the 2006-2007 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), only 22 percent of married women use modern methods of contraception. Among the non-users, just under half intend to use a method in the future. The top reason for non-use is fatalism (“It’s up to God”), cited by 28 percent of respondents. So, role modeling self-efficacy (women and men having the right and the ability to determine family size outcomes) is another key to changing behavior.

Other leading reasons for non-use of family planning include male opposition, health concerns, personal opposition, and religious opposition. These barriers are worsened by the low status of women and girls and the fact that many girls are not given formal education. While the minimum legal age of marriage in Pakistan is 18 years for males and 16 years for females, over one-third of women marry by age 18, and around 13 percent of women marry before their 15th birthday. Delaying marriage, and increasing female empowerment and contraceptive use can only be accomplished using innovative communications to overcome these informational and cultural barriers.

Although there is support for the concept of family planning and child spacing in Islamic teachings (see “Islamic Teachings on Reproductive Health and Family Planning,” a chapter by Mehtab Karim in a book co-edited by Gavin Jones and Mehtab Karim, “Islam, the State and Population,” Hearst & Co, London, 2005), religious leaders in Pakistan (unlike in Iran and Indonesia) have not been very forthcoming in openly supporting the concept of family planning. Some efforts are being made by the Ministry of Population Planning, with support from USAID in Pakistan, to promote this concept among the religious leadership, but the same is not being communicated to the masses. The broadcast media can play a strong role in this initiative.

The DHS showed that about one-third of all households have a radio and more than half (56 percent) have a television. Yet, the majority of married women had not seen or heard any broadcast messages on family planning within the month preceding the DHS survey.

Pakistan: Coordinated efforts urged to check population growth

Federal Minister for Population Welfare Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan has stressed the need for coordinated efforts on the part of provincial and federal governments to implement programmes.

She was speaking at a seminar on Family Planning organized by the Mir Khalilur Rehman Memorial Society in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Ministry of Population Welfare at a local hotel on Tuesday.

The minister said the federal government had suggested chalked out many programmes and framed policies to address the problem of growing population but the provincial governments did not follow them properly. She said this created a gap between policy and implementation of the policies and affected coordination between federal and provincial governments.

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