ISLAMABAD: The rate with which the population is increasing is as critical an issue as is polio, said Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar.
At a press conference on Monday about the National Population Summit 2015 that will start on November 5, the minister said all strategies to curb population growth over the last 60 years had failed to deliver results.
However, she added, a legislation limiting the number of children per family, or linking the number to family income, could not be drafted because it was not in accordance with Islam.
A few years gap between births is very important, Ms Tarar said, and likened the population growth in the country to a ticking bomb. “Our population is increasing by 3.5 million every year. This growth rate is like a bomb that can explode at any time. All our problems are because of the increase in population, be it unemployment, health issues or education.”
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It is high time to declare population increase a national priority, Ms Tarar said. “A strong policy statement from the leaders, political and religious, will make up for lost time and reassure us of their commitment to tackle this issue.”
Religious leaders have also been taken onboard to tackle the problem, Ms Tarar said, and that religious leaders have reassured the government they will disseminate religiously acceptable messages on birth spacing.
A participant asked why the government had not declared a health emergency in this regard and why a legislation limiting the number of children was not being introduced. To this, Ms Tarar said the government can only take measures which were compliant with Islam.
She stressed the importance of the issue by saying that multiple births were leading to higher mortality rates among women.
“I have seen women dying during their fifth or sixth delivery. The children she leaves behind are the ones who get to suffer and they don’t even get proper nourishment.”
Pakistan is the sixth largest country in terms of population and is behind other countries in the region in terms of creating awareness about the issue.
The minister said the government could only sensitise the people and that it was making efforts to do so. She said provincial governments and international organisations would help the government devise a strategy for this in the upcoming summit.
The minister informed the participants that Pakistan had vowed to make its people aware of different contraceptive measures and the benefits of family planning at the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012.
Political leaders have also been reached out to, said Javed Jabbar who is a former minister and adviser on population control.
Mr Jabbar said people needed to be convinced to use contraception, adding that it was not an impossible feat to achieve. After all, he said, Bangladesh had managed to control its population.
The National Population Summit will be attended by about 500 delegates from across Pakistan and between 25 to 30 international participants.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2015