VIEW: Dealing with population issues -Haroon Mustafa Janjua
There is lack of spousal communication: women are scared to initiate a discussion on family planning and related reproductive health issues, fearing repercussions from their husbands
Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of 183 million. The country is in the midst of an unprecedented demographic transition making the third highest annual net addition to the global population after India and China. The high fertility rate is a major contributor to this situation since the mortality rate has been fairly stable over the years. The burning issue of population can be tackled through appropriate policy measures, enabling rapid economic growth and a demographic dividend. If the issue is not tackled with all seriousness, this tide will cause economic burdens, unemployment, consequent unrest and violence leading to political and civil conflicts.
There are many questions that need to be answered on this critical issue, which has often been politicised over religious and cultural grounds. The unsustainable population growth, reluctance in family planning and birth spacing, and fragile economic and industrial positioning are unable to stem the rising tide of population. Pakistan’s population is projected to reach a staggering 350 million by 2050, almost double its present size, which itself is not a very healthy indicator. As a nation stuck in a plethora of problems on many fronts, we can ill afford to bear such burdens. The major chunk of the population comprises of a large demographic of youth with insufficient prospects of employment – a dangerous portent for policy makers to handle.
The historical analysis of family planning and its developmental impact is not very encouraging. From the establishment of the Family Planning Association of Pakistan (1953) until the recent devolution of powers to the provinces (2010), there have been changes in policies with successive changes in government, which included a freeze on family planning during the Ziaul Haq rule. A national population programme, begun in 1955, and the population welfare programme have been part of the national five-year plans since 1960. Despite these early efforts in family planning in Pakistan, contraceptive prevalence remains low at 35 percent compared to 85 percent in China and 61 percent in Bangladesh. The fertility rate is 4.1 (3.1 urban and 4.0 rural). Following the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, Pakistan has gradually integrated family planning with reproductive health services and has adopted a voluntary and target-free approach to family planning services.
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