WASHINGTON: In Pakistan, couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing and timing of children, but often lack access to information and the means to take informed decisions, says a US report released on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the US State Department issued an addendum to its annual human rights reports to cover the issue of reproductive health, which will be included in all future reports.

The report noted that in Pakistan authorities provided regular access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

“All sexual violence cases reported in a public facility are also reported to the police. Survivors of sexual violence are provided with a clinical exam and treatment; female survivors are offered emergency contraceptives,” the report added.

The report pointed out that last year, “the Lahore High Court dec­lared virginity tests illegal and of no forensic value in cases of sexual violence”.

Yet, young girls and women were especially vulnerable to problems related to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and often lacked information and means to access care, the report noted.

According to this report, spousal opposition also contributed to the challenges women faced in obtaining contraception or delaying pregnancy. Women, particularly in rural areas, faced difficulty in accessing education on health and reproductive rights due to social constraints, which also complicated data collection.

The report also mentioned the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Reproductive Healthcare Rights Bill, passed in July 2020, which requires the provincial government to provide reproductive healthcare information, to provide quality family planning services including short-term, long-term, and permanent methods of contraception, and to enable local access to contraceptives.

The Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Reproductive Healthcare Rig­hts Bill in November 2019 to stren­gthen access to rural health centers and family planning resources, and to reduce the complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

The report also quoted the most recent UN research, which put the maternal mortality ratio at 140 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate attributed to a lack of health information and services. The report lamented that few women in rural areas had access to skilled attendants during childbirth, including essential obstetric and postpartum care.

Unicef estimated that direct and indirect effects of Covid-19 led to a 14.5 per cent increase in child mortality and a 21.3 per cent increase in maternal mortality in 2020, the report added.

The report also included recent statistics provided by the National Institute of Population Studies, noting that 86 per cent of women received prenatal care. Unicef data stated that skilled healthcare providers delivered 71 per cent of births in 2019.

The World Health Organisation, citing 2010-2018 data, reported an adolescent birth rate of 46 per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2021

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