WITH limited sexual health awareness and poor access to contraception methods — and the pressures of large families to feed in times of inflation — many Pakistani women resort to secretive and unsafe abortions through self-induced or back-alley channels, risking their health in the process. Some die during their attempts to abort the unborn child. According to a report published in this paper yesterday, more than 2m women opt for abortion each year as a self-attempted method of ‘family planning’. While there is little legal clarity on the subject, many doctors refrain from carrying out abortions, citing religious beliefs. Shamefully, the majority of the illegally aborted foetuses are female. Many women are afraid of bringing daughters into the world, under pressure from their families, in-laws or husbands.
There is also something to be said about the failure of launching successful family planning schemes in this country by successive governments more than 50 years after the very first one during Gen Ayub’s rule. According to a Unicef announcement, 15,000 children were estimated to be born in Pakistan at the start of the new year. The population explosion is a strain on our resources and standard of living. But poor healthcare facilities, ignorance and taboos surrounding contraception and cultural myths about large families have never allowed proper family planning to take root in society. This also highlights a weakness in the state when it comes to reining in counter narratives that contradict or challenge its stated policies. Perhaps it is time to look to our neighbour to the west for inspiration. In Iran, the average family halved in size between 1988 and 1996, after the government launched a large-scale family planning operation: fatwas were issued, couples were made to attend contraception classes before marriage, contraceptives were distributed free of cost, along with increased access to sterilisation. To the east, Bangladesh was able to decrease its birth rate by using the mosque to spread the state’s message. The time for family planning is now.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019