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Knowing thy enemy

Published Oct 10, 2012 04:12pm


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“Even if you don’t believe in them, ghosts exist. Or at least one does; the ghost of the population. And nobody is ready to face it. People are either hiding from it or perhaps just avoiding it. It’s true that we only hear what we want to hear, anyone else who is speaking is speaking to himself.” Khuda Bux Abro - The Population Ghost

According to Pakistan Public Opinion survey 2009, the most important issues facing Pakistan included inflation, unemployment, terrorism, electricity and water shortage, poverty and corruption. Interestingly, the replies did not even include explosive population growth, which ultimately has led to all of the above mentioned problems. None of the major political parties in Pakistan have focused their policies on how to control the population problem. Some facts should be considered to understand the gravity of this humongous problem facing our country. With close to 200 million people, Pakistan has nearly six times the population of Afghanistan (or Iraq), twice the population of Iran, and almost two-thirds the population of the entire Arab world put together. On the other hand, Pakistan ranks 46th with regards to its GDP and 136th with respect to its Per Capita Income.

There are a number of factors responsible for the population explosion in Pakistan. There are the socio-economic factors, education level of parents, cultural hesitance in using contraceptive methods, a general lack of awareness about the impact of increased population and resistance offered by religious elements in some parts of the country. Any solution to such a multi-faceted problem has to be versatile, ingenuous and with participation of all the stake holders. We need to learn from the gains achieved in this regard by high-population Muslim countries including Indonesia, Egypt and Iran (Reports by the UN show birth control policies in Iran to be effective with the country topping the list of greatest fertility decreases). A cursory glance at the strategies used by these countries in population control can provide lessons to be followed in our country apart from indigenous tweaks and solutions.

The first and foremost task is to involve community leaders including the members of clergy and school teachers in the policy making process. The biggest hurdle in tackling the menace of population explosion is the antagonism offered by religious organisations. Back in the 1980s, the family planning ministry had to be renamed “Population Welfare” ministry, a euphemism to soothe the fears of the clergy. Making the clergy part of the process would give it a much needed legitimacy in rural areas, where the population load is increasing day by day. For the urban population, school teachers have taken the mantle of community leaders and their help would be crucial in ensuring that people consider this problem as their own. Awareness about population control has reached majority of people, courtesy of electronic media in the last 20 years. What still needs to be done is to emphasise that active participation by the populace is required for controlling the over-all population of a country. At the moment, only 30 per cent of married couples are practicing family planning, which is undesirable.

Media also needs to play a part in breaking the taboo associated with using contraceptive methods and family planning.

Secondly, a very important step that is crucial for attaining population control is secondary education for mothers/potential mothers. Pakistan already has a low literacy rate, and female literacy is even lower than the national average. Girls are supposed to study up to 5th grade or 10th grade and then quit education to work at home. This phenomenon is more pronounced in under-developed areas including Southern Punjab, Northern Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Due to tremendous efforts regarding awareness of this situation in the last 20 years, a gradual change has been seen in the attitudes of parents but much more work still needs to be done. Incentives have to be provided for parents who send their daughters for Secondary education apart from free books and good schooling facilities. Based on my clinical experience in Gynecology and Obstetrics department, I strongly recommend awareness campaigns including workshops and interactive sessions at secondary schools for girls throughout the country to address issue of family planning and basic awareness about pregnancy. This would help in decreasing the infant mortality rate and deaths associated with pregnancy.

Thirdly, a major problem regarding family planning services in Pakistan is the inadequate provision of contraceptive devices for both genders. According to a paper(Alternate Scenarios for Population Control in Pakistan, by Tauseef  Ahmed and Syed Mubashir Ali) published in  Pakistan Development Review 1992,

“Pakistan’s population programme has always followed a supply-oriented approach assuming that demand exists, but unfortunately, the major constraint which inhibited the programme was the poor supply of contraceptives and lack of consistency in the contraceptive mix”. Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have played a huge role in population control over the years but the state should also work extensively in this regard, because it is in our mutual benefit. A related issue in this context is the decentralisation of the population control services right at the local council level. It would decrease the level of bureaucracy involved and result in easier supply of services.

I would like to cite Iran’s example here. Iran's government declared that “Islam favoured families with only two children".  Iran's Health Ministry launched a nationwide campaign and introduced contraceptives - pills, condoms, IUDs, implants, tubal ligations, and vasectomies.

In 1993, Iran’s Parliament passed further legislation withdrawing food coupons, paid maternity leave, and social welfare subsidies after the third child. Birth control classes were required before a couple could get married. Dozens of mobile teams were sent to remote parts of the country to offer free vasectomies and tubal ligations.

By 2001, an Iranian condom factory produced more than 70 million condoms a year. That is how Iran achieved the fastest drop in birth rate that has ever been recorded.

Even with the current population boom, had there been an adequate infrastructure and support programs available to the common masses this increasing population would have become an immense human resource for Pakistan that would boost its economic growth and progress. However, we see a lack thereof in such opportunities that are confined to a lucky few urbanites while the rest face deprivation, frustration, ignorance, lack of training and zero opportunities to contribute something to society. This is something that must be changed.

The problem of population explosion has to be sorted out, and sorted out now. We are running out of time and our population has to be controlled effectively for us to have any chances of becoming a developed country.


The writer is a medical student with an interest in History, Political Economy and Literature. He blogs here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The writer is a medical student with an interest in History, Political Economy and Literature. He blogs here.

You can follow him @abdulmajeedabid.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (16) Closed

Cyrus Howell Oct 10, 2012 01:38pm
Sad but true. Reserve your spot on the beach in Sydney, Australia while there still is some time.
human Oct 11, 2012 07:27am
!.2 billion and still is growing at a faster rate than others. All the western countries will be taken over by muslims, sharia law will be established, ethnic cleansing will wipe the infidels, and the greatest religion of Islam will be established all over the world.
D Oct 10, 2012 12:36pm
Finally, at least one person talks about it! Kudos! But my friend, the state will never list unmanageable "population" as a factor contributing to the evils in your society, because that perhaps would amount to "BLASPHEMY" in the land of Pure Islam! Pakistan, ironically, is its own biggest enemy! The world only needs to sit and watch, as Pakistan does the vicarious job of destroying itself!
Gerry D'Cunha Oct 10, 2012 01:40pm
i fully agree with your excellent comments and would like to add,people in pakistan need to search their own 'grabaan' the enemy lies within them - wakeup your neighbouring country is progressing fast.
from Indian Oct 10, 2012 12:50pm
very gud article
Arshad Jamil Oct 10, 2012 04:37pm
Important subject.. We need more of such articles. The population explosion is playing havoc, while the nation is sleeping. It is time to go beyond the rhetoric, the usual excuses and blame game. Look at any well educated, moderately religious or non religious couple, who have the knowledge and resources for family planning, but still have two to five children. Besides that, for introducing family planning teaching is schools, will not work, because, we will never be able to go beyond 25% or so of literacy. Same goes for family planning devices. The nation is poor, and can not afford it. It is Pakistan's problem, and we must not go for solutions from other countries. Serious problems need drastic action. We need an ordinance, that henceforth, there shall be no more than one child per family, and let the people figeure out, how to. In the mean time the clock is ticking.
madan Oct 11, 2012 11:31am
china is reaping the benefits of one child policy now. China had started its one child policy in 1950's. Prosperity is linked to smaller families.
farkhunda Oct 11, 2012 09:58am
Allah says in holy quran that don't kill your child from the fear of hunger.Allah will give food and shelter to you and your child.
Deepen C Oct 11, 2012 09:43am
Blame US, Israel, RAW and continue.
Sikandar Ali Oct 11, 2012 08:32am
Very Good piece of thought, albeit the issue is`nt handled on serious grounds through any provision of our Pakistani society still those suggestions of conducting clergy in our policy making strategies and educating our deprived proportions are very rightious suggestion.. SOme more ideas should also be carried out, thought provoking writings are essence of time...
Haroon Oct 10, 2012 05:45pm
Unfortunately very few people can read this informative stuff because most Pakistanis read and listen to urdu newspapers and TV channels. which is either full of political gossip or yellow journalism and does not provide any food of thought for the commmon man with regard to problems or perils faced by the country.
HK Oct 11, 2012 09:32am
You are absolutely right. If there has to be a National Security Strategy it has to be about how to control the runaway population growth. The example of Iran was impressive; I was never aware of that. This fact needs to be publicized for the benefit of our clerics and general population.
BRR Oct 11, 2012 04:12am
Increasing the number of muslims in the world seems to be the policy being followed - making sure numerically that there are more muslims - regardless of the quality of life.
pKaiser Oct 11, 2012 08:10pm
As an American living in Western Europe I cannot tell if this comment is meant ironically or seriously. I am sure that those of you from Pakistan will know however. This shows how difficult it is to communicate across cultural barriers.
pKaiser Oct 10, 2012 04:18pm
Overpopulation is not one of our major problems, it is our ONLY problem, since it is either directly causes or intensifies all significant problems we face - climate change, environmental destruction, food, energy and water shortages, social injustice, unequal distribution of goods and the resulting conflicts, loss of biodiversity, and forced reliance on dangerous or damaging technologies.
Razzaq Oct 10, 2012 07:23pm
Who have a courage to sideline the religious bigots who are always misguiding the people.Unless this is done, no chance of solving this population problem.