Population planning: key to all-round betterment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE ONE factor which has proved to be a major impediment to the socioeconomic development of countries in the Third World is population explosion.

It has now been conclusively established that Governments which have been incapable or unwilling to slow down the population growth rate in their countries have failed to bring about much of a change in the quality of life of their people — whatever be the growth recorded in the sectors which are taken to constitute the indices of economic progress. Conversely, failure to promote the socio-economic development of people results in a high population growth rate.

This was the message to emerge from the seminar on women, children and population held in early November at Jakarta, cosponsored by UNICEF, U’NFPA, the Press Foundation of Asia and the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association. The seminar in which media representatives from seven South and South-East Asian countries participated also had another message to convey. The status of women and children in a society largely determines the rate of population growth, just as an effective population policy has a direct impact on the lives of women and children. It needs no profound thinking to understand the interrelationship between the two.

Social status

Policies directed towards raising the social and economic status of women have a deep bearing on the fertility rate of a country. Thus, a higher literacy level, better health care and employment opportunities for women inevitably lead to lower infant mortality rate (IMR) and a greater willingness to space children and limit the family size. Conversely, a vigorous family planning programme which aims at reducing the number of children a woman gives birth to also helps in improving her status by raising the level of health and nutrition of her family and opening up opportunities for education and employment for her and her children.

These factors are very closely interrelated as is obvious from the statistics pertaining to literacy rate, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, female participation in labour force and crude birth rate (CBR) in any given Third World country. It has generally been observed that the better educated the women are, the lower is the infant mortality rate, the higher is the life expectancy at birth and the lower is the crude birth rate. This trend is indicated clearly by the data given for the seven Asian countries for 1981 (these are the countries which were represented in the seminar).

Perhaps the most instructive fact to have emerged from the seminar is that the traditional basic indicator of the health of a country’s economy, namely, the GNP, is not really the key factor in determining the quality of life of its people. Thus, among the countries listed above, Sri Lanka has a per capita GNP of 306 dollars as compared with 350 dollars for Pakistan and yet Sri Lanka has a much lower CBR and IMR and higher life expectancy and literacy rate than Pakistan. Political will

U’NICEF has formulated this concept in terms of the PQLI — the Physical Quality of Life Index which takes into account three elements: the rates of infant mortality, literacy and life expectancy at age one. The PQLI is calculated by giving equal weight to each of these indicators. It is significant that many countries with a high GNP per head have a low PQLI. For instance, Brazil is much richer than Sri Lanka in terms of GNP but Brazil’s PQLI rating is 65 as compared with 80 for Sri Lanka.

In other words, it is now clear that the quality of life of the citizens of a country, which is the real indicator of economic development, depends not on its resources alone. The more crucial factor is the political will and social commitment of the Government and the soundness of the policies it adopts on education, health, population planning, women and children.

An integrated approach, however, is essential if progress is to be made in checking population growth. It is an exercise in futility to seek to reduce the crude birth rate through policies which are directed towards one sector but completely ignore the others. While equal importance needs to be given to every aspect of development of women and children, sufficient emphasis should also be placed on family planning. In Indonesia, the Government has chalked out a programme for the development of women and children which should have a widespread impact on society. It is called GOBI-FF. The acronym stands for growth monitoring of the child, oral rehydration therapy, breast feeding, immunisation, family planning and female education.

populationCollectively, these should boost the health and education level of women while reducing infant mortalitv rate. But the most significant aspect of the programme is that it focusses sharply on family planning. A concerted effort is being made at all levels to make people aware of the need of limiting their family size and spacing their children. This is done through a vigorous family planning programme which aims at informing and educating the people, providing contraceptive services and training personnel. This emphasis on family planning has begun to pay dividends. The crude birth rate per thousand has been brought down drastically from 47 in 1955-60 to 37 in 1975-80 to 32 in the eighties.

Seen in the light of the experience of other Third World countries. Pakistan’s record in family planning stands out as being really dismal. The population growth rate is said to be 2.8 per cent which is on the higher side (the Third World average is 2 per cent). According to UN estimates, the total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman can expect to give birth to) in the Third World is 4.64. In Pakistan it is 5.9. The crude birth rate here is also alarmingly high at 41 per 1,000 as compared with the average of 33 per 1.000 in the other developing countries.

Pakistan’s record

The broad thrust of the Population Welfare programme in Pakistan is correct because it seeks to improve the social, economic and health conditions of women and thus reduce fertility rates. But what is sadly lacking is sufficient emphasis on the clinical aspect of family planning without which no progress can be made in actually cutting down on the crude birth rate. The shyness which has marked the Government’s approach to family planning is not quite understandable. There is greater need for frankness in the Government’s approach to the family planning side of the population welfare programme. A discreet stance has not really paid off because it has not created the social environment necessary for educating the people and motivating them. The message of family planning must be conveyed to the people through the Radio, the Television, the Press and also the Mosque as is being done in Indonesia, a Muslim country like ours. The entire Government leadership has to show the political commitment to make family planning acceptable to the masses.

Source: Dawn 20 Nov 1983