A nation of 335 million?

by Zubeida Mustafa

MORE than climate change, more than the depletion of fresh water supply, a fast population growth rate is the key element which will determine the survival of humankind.

Of these three, population growth requires the least complex planning in a way but the most challenging strategy. On the one hand, its success does not depend on intricate international coordination and diplomatic bargaining. But on the other, it needs to effect a change in human behaviour that calls for sensitivity and understanding. Success in population planning will have a beneficial impact on the other two problems identified and will ease the pressure in those areas.

Pakistan has suffered the evil effects of all three. It is time that it addressed the population problem on a priority basis and with a measure of understanding.

Much has been written on population explosion but it is treated more as a numbers game. One analyst even implied that in Pakistan the size of the population would not be such a major issue if wealth was equitably distributed. No one would dispute the need for greater parity in resources but would that mitigate the human difficulties posed by large families? The father who sired 19 children I met after the family had fled to Baldia (Karachi) from Swat in the wake of the army action in 2009 is not altogether an exceptional phenomenon in Pakistan.

The pressure on natural resources, the urgency of addressing challenges such as the quality of life, providing basic services to all such as good education, healthcare, nutrition and housing would not melt away even if more resources were made available. We need human expertise of an extraordinary kind if an impact has to be made in the not-so-distant future before a new generation of baby boomers catch up to create a new backlog

What is surprising is the cavalier manner in which the population issue is generally treated. Take the World Contraception Day that has been instituted by the UN since 2007 and was observed last week in Islamabad. We have already been observing a World Population Day in July since 1989. The Pakistan government dutifully falls in line to display its commitment and holds seminars and conferences which mean little as our population continues to grow at the rate of 2.2 per cent (UNFPA estimates). It is said we shall be a nation of 335 million in the year 2050.

Regrettably, few feel any concern about the underlying issues that need to be identified and addressed. Thus the conference last week expended a lot of oral energy on the theme, ‘Live your life, know your rights, learn about contraception’. The emphasis was on the need to create awareness. Probably none of the speakers had read up the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) of 2006-07 (the last to be conducted) which clearly stated, “Nearly all Pakistani women knew of at least one method of contraception.”

But what many women need is knowledge of where to obtain the contraceptives. Given the immobility of a large number of women, their newfound knowledge of contraception can be unproductive. Small wonder the PDHS speaks of a large unmet need — that is women who want to plan their families but can’t because of non-availability of contraceptives (at least 36 per cent by UNFPA calculations).

The USAID representative who attended the Islamabad conference understood the significance of this need and said her agency had provided several billion dollars for this purpose. But someone has to make the contraceptives accessible, and given the state of our devolved social-sector departments, it is not clear how these billions will be spent.

What is more worrying is the general inability of the population planners to take a holistic approach to the issue. Although so many studies have conclusively established that a family-planning programme cannot be seen in isolation, we seem to be focusing on keeping a count of the contraceptives dispensed. It is the status of women that needs to be upgraded so that every girl child who is born is a wanted child. Is it surprising that the PDHS found that 65 per cent of women with three boys did not want any more children while only 14 per cent of women with three daughters said the same?

More telling was the view expressed by a young mother-to-be that she did not want her baby to be a girl because she didn’t want her child to suffer in life as she herself had.

It is universally acknowledged that when girls are educated their fertility level goes down. And if they also work outside the home — that is if they are empowered — it is more likely that they will have fewer children. Yet have we really made any extraordinary effort to send our girls to school? UNFPA gives us some statistics. Nearly 72 per cent of girls enrolled in primary school reach Grade 5 but only 28 per cent go on to secondary school. Given their lack of empowerment, whatever little education girls receive does not change their life substantially.

So where do we go from here? To the goal of 335 million? If that has to be avoided then men must also be partners in the programme. It is not that they do not play the role of the decision-maker in the matter of family size. But they are happy to leave it to women to carry the burden of responsibility.

Source: Dawn

23 thoughts on “A nation of 335 million?

  1. To quote a caption from your article "It is time we address the population problem on priority basis …" !!! Please make correction, it should be: "There was a time we could address the problem …". More accurate, exact and realistic.____This is not the problem of the world. Or, at of the least First World. It is peculiar to the Third World countries with mega populations, where from top we come on sixth. And, if you take population ratio against resources, bravo! Our ranking will go up. We are not a population time bomb ticking. We have already exploded and terrifying, rather terrorizing the world. ____Alea iacta est. The die has been cast. ____This problem should have been addressed in the seventies, when it was somewhat understood and accepted, or during eighties, but we then were on divine mission. Now lost nineties and first decade of the millennium as well, we are ready with what we cultivated for: a zealous generation passionately believing that every living creature coming in this world is bringing it own food, and water, and clothing, and perhaps fuel and electricity too. ____Sorry, what you said is useless rhetoric. ______

    1. i dont think it is a problem-my father zaheer uddin khan of sherpur had five kids 4 girls and one boy that is me-he wanted an heir for the sherpur estate on the nepal border in united provinces-but before his death he wrote letters to me which my mother noor us sabah begum-on whose taking part in the pakistan movemt- the government of pakistan has brought out a postage stamp-which she used to read to me that 'every one will tell you that you are the son of a nawab dont beleive them but just study'-so i studied became a barrister at law from lincoln's inn,got an llm from smu-texas-got another master of laws in comparative laws from the university of michigan-i also have five kids-rubab the eldest who stood first both in ba hons and ma and is a phd,the second afshan is an artist-painter-the third salman is an mba from usa on a tennis scholarship,tazeen who got second position in msc physics and kamran who is a well known computer expert in usa-well if you have such kids it is good for pakistan.i am against family planning but i am for the education of children-
      ps my secretary went to china recently he is so impressed-with china and chinese that he is learning chinese.khuda hafiz-sorry allah hafiz.

  2. Like you right pointed out – its not about the awareness any more but about the availability of contraceptive and awareness about where to get them from. But its also about other important barriers – such as social barriers. If almost every women knows about at least one contraception methods then the question is why only 30% are practising a method?

    So its the barriers, as well as, the motivators that needs to be addressed.

  3. This is an excellent article. After devolution of Population Welfare Program to the provinces now it is responsibility of provincial governments to evolve their policies. Population Welfare Department Sindh is working on it. There is no second opinion that population welfare department alone could not provide family planning services untill and unless active participation of health sector. In new Population Policy there would be clear mandate of Population Welfare, Health and other public and private stake holders to provide Family Planning services.

    I invite you to hold a meeting with my Secretary and other senior officers and share your views to incorporate in new Policy.
    Ashfaq Ali Shah,
    Additional Secretary,
    Population Welfare Department, Sindh

  4. Though ineffectual, Dr Attiya Inayatullah in the days of Gen Ayub Khan made the right kind of noises about family planning and population control. This vital issue then vanished from the agenda of successive Pk governments. This neglect springs from a misinterpretation of Islamic injunctions – clearly Iran and Bangladesh, which are very respectful of religion, have made significant progress in restricting growth.

    Greater equity will help but it has to go together with a much smaller family size if Pk is to make any progress.

    1. Attiya Inayatullah continued to be active with the Family Planning Association of Pakistan in the Zia Years. Whatever people may say or do, it is the push from the government that makes the difference. Although people often attribute this failure to the general perception of religion prohibiting birth control, when generally questioned in surveys very few people say it is because of their religious beliefs. It is generally apathy and for some it is fatalism. But the most important factor that emerges is the low status of women.

  5. Does Pakistan want to lead the world in birth control, or take a back seat?
    Muslim men, farmers, Latins and Catholic priests are against birth control.

    One thing women everywhere do not seems to acknowledge or understand is that women are fertile for almost a month after giving birth.
    That is why women in the Developing World have children year after year after year when couples reunite. In the 1960's Indian families were given every form of birth control in hopes the man and wife would use one, including birth control pills. Farmers wanted no part of any of them.

    In 1980 Deng Shao-ping brought Chinese economists together to ask them one single question – how can China catch up economically with the West?
    They all had the same answer. In their own worlds, "defuse the population bomb" or every economic gain China makes will be wiped out by new population. The Developing World will need to reduce it's populations in order to actually develop, or as you point out will always be running behind population growth. It seems most women anywhere in the world with six or more children have never read a book. Not a single book out side of school books. When US soldiers got to Iraq America found 50% of all Iraq women were unable to read or write.

    We see how well China has done economically since "the one child rule" was applied. Oddly the Chinese have felt patriotic about having only one child or no children at all and moving China forward. It was a sacrifice, but they made the sacrifice. They understood there would be some risk and adjustments to make, but over all China has caught up with the West economically in only 30 years – less than two generations. In the case of China there were Hong Kong banks, Overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Taiwanese ready to invest money. Europe and America jumped in to sell consumer goods, and did have to make some investment and lease land.

    The pay off for birth control is a viable economy.
    Unfortunately politicians know this is an issue that could put them out of public office in countries like Mexico, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt and India.

  6. Hello read your colonial piece of the population problem of Pakistan. As usual with all colonial minded house slaves of Pakistan, they niavely believe what their imperial masters tell them. This religiously inspired fanatical belief in the White master is usually more to do with causing the problem. Eugenics and population control have never been apart of Muslim or South Asian culture. It seems, the West's obsessive need to keep the number of the darkies limited, no longer has to be done by mass slaughter and genocide as was done during the colonial days. They have an entire army of Imperial stooges who are more then happy to put their own people in the gas chambers, blindly following the religion of eugenics, they fundamentalts will kill many more then the so called terorrists. 1st. Thing for your peanut brain to digest is that a big population is never a problem, it we look at the world USA with 330 million is the most powerful nation on earth. China with 1.3 Billion has double digit growth, and is emerging as a new superpower. It's what people consume that is the problem and how wealth is created. Simply telling the poor to commit genocide on themselves with birth control is not the answer. The answer lies in first eliminating the corrupt Imperial elite of Pakistan, so the people of Pakistan are free to create wealth and let their minds be used in bettering the country. Then finally finding a means to put all these people to productive work. Thanks for your time.

  7. This is a good article, provides practical ideas rather than sermons. however, a couple of comments. The author aserts that population growth is a bigger problem than climate change. within the global environmental movement, the position is clear–climate change is the biggest issue. population gorwth is gradually being brought into control and the world population is ecpected to stabilize at around 8 -9 bliion by 2050. according to the new "limits to growth" calculations , there are enough resources in the world to provider this number of people a reasonably comfortable standard of living as long as resource access is just.

    the author also wonders how better resource distribution will solve issues of better education etc. if the govt taxes rich people properly, there will be more resources available for providing education, reproductive health services etc in the poor areas. similarly, if land resources were more equitably distributed through land reforms, people's incomes will increase and they will be in a better position to access health and education services , .Niaz

    1. Speaking in Pakistan's context, any moves to address climate change or water supply need a regional approach and at the moment Pakistan is in no position to negotiate successfully with any of its neighbours. At least for population planning, if there is a will the government can proceed further.It has to deal with its own people.

      You are right that better distribution of wealth will help by generating resources for education and health care. But if women continue to have large number of children they cannot humanly give the same attention to them as a woman with fewer children. The focus has to be on small family size to produce maximum impact

  8. The problem is in lot of false belief and education. Population of muslim in India after independence & partition has grown from 3.8 million to 150 Million almost 40 times where as all others has gone up only 3.2 times which is telling the real truth. Your preaching & not to believe in science, mis guided leadership or having more population means better life, more votes and bargaining power are all to blame for. In India too many people are undeduacted but have some sort of openness to accept science and absteinanace preaching which does not allow the run away population like Pak.

  9. I am not sure where you got your figures from. In 1947 India had approximately 35 to 40 million Muslims out of a total of 350 million. The Muslim population has grown about four fold while India's population has grown three-fold in the last 60 years.

  10. Being a nation its our attitude to swim up the stream and not down the stream.Means that we are willing to fight and change nature laws.Instead of obeying Islamic teachings which are based on equality in all spheres,brotherhood,labour rights,social welfare and state obligations etc we always devise opposite mechanism which will never be fruitful to us.Remove corruption,give labour rights,education to poor,impose taxes on rich,equal distribution of wealth,we will never do but r willing to control birth rate means to fight with nature…..

    1. I agree with you about equality and equal distribution of wealth. But will this by itself solve all our problems including that of population explosion.
      What I find intriguing is what you term as "fighting nature". If using birth control is something against nature, I wonder if using medicines and surgery against disease is also defying nature.
      If you are going to allow every woman to give birth to ten children, but keep infant mortality low by using modern inoculation and imunisation against childhood diseases will this earth be able to support the massive increase in population? It is not wise to be selective in such matters and not use one's critical thinking. A sure recipe for disaster.

  11. A great article. No matter what people said in their comments on this piece, the fact remains that large families and poverty go hand in hand. You give me a poor man, and I will give you the head of a large family. In Pakistan at least. This practice among most poor Pakistanis should never be confused with Islam as a religion. Poor Pakistanis have little or no knowledge about Islam so lets not even talk about religion here.
    Population growth rate in Pakistan has come down from 3.5% in 70's and perhaps 80's too which is good, but even 2.2 is high. We need to tackle it with full conviction.
    By the way, high population growth rate exists in Saudi Arabia too, and to me it appears to be the main problem behind widespread poverty in this oil rich country. Here, rich or middle income or poor, all go for large families and poverty is a big issue in Saudi Arabia, except that nobody here connects the poverty with high population growth rate. This was my two cents.

  12. Salam, I am new to you but want to express my opinion regarding your recent article which rightly touched now 180 million pakistanis. Right away after the devolution process, provines are now responsible to tackle with the population growth issues. Firstly, are the provinces capable to deal with this gigantic issue which is neglected by the successive government in the past since 1960s either it was military or political governments. Secondly, population policy of Pakistan has now been drafted (prior to devolution process by Ministry of Population Welfare). As I am working for an international NGO which works for population and health issues in Pakistan. I would like to invite you to participate in a seminar in December 2011 here in Islamabad. If it possible for you, please do attend this seminar for meeting with other experts of population and health fields.

  13. Yes, Pakistan cannot do much on CC. but at a global level, CC is more important. nor is population increase the main cause of CC as is sometimes wrongly asserted by some other writers. agreed that faamily sizes should come down even if resources increase. however resource increase it self will contribute to that by making more money available for contraceptives and repr services. There is a conservative approach to pop control which basically sees pop increase asa result of the idiocy and irresponsibility of illiterate poor people and then relies mainly on sermons as a solution. there is a progressive approach to it which tries to understand the constraints that may force the poor to have more children and tries to resolve them to effect pop control. i would like to emphasize the latter approach, as this article also does to some extent.

    1. Correct. There is need to understand why people have so many children. I feel not many people understand that. You had written about people in Third World countries having many children as an insurance for old age. Even that is changing now. It is now the status of women. In our society to be the father of a son is considered to be a status symbol even though the son may not really be much of a help in the parents' old age. That has to change.

  14. I completely agree but this is a problemm which is particularly serious in Pakistan because of illiteracy and indoctrination by the reactionary mullahs. In Singapore tax incentive is given to produce children !

  15. I agree with your opinion that the fast growing population is a great obstacle in the development of Pakistan

  16. We all are aware of this problem but we don't care. We are in the illusion that this problem will solve itself. The government and the public, no one seems serious about this issue. Education cannot solve this problem' as it is multi dimensional. Even buying the contraceptives is a difficult issue. In this field those who deal are dangerous persons; the ayas etc.

  17. Ms Zubeida! Very Important and always a Current Problem has been discussed in a National way. This Problem does not relate only to Pak but many nations are facing it. As many Nations are facing it so this Issue relates to UN also.

    You have advocated that woman should use contraceptive. Is it only a Woman duty? Apart from buying problem a woman faces family decision also.

    Wisalji has wisely said it is a multi dimensional problem and mere education and contraceptive cannot solve it.

    On this topic I add my view point as under:

    1.The nature and solution of this problem differs from country to country and even area to area within a country.

    2. The population or population growth be considered as National Asset and its usage needs to be a well planned programme. How many will born – how many school and college are needed. How many Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Technician and Farmers would be needed. A wisely drafted graph would result into a maximum utilization of Population growth or National Assets. Mere getting degree in graduation etc. makes a fuss and give rise to unemployment. Though it is a tedious and candle burning job but would yield some result.

    3. The average life of a human being is rising year by year and hyper control of population growth may give a scenario of a nation, after 35-40 years, with too many seniors and less numbers of youngs. Currently some European countries are facing this problem.

    4. Woman should be made healthy and more educative so that her children get these qualities to become a healthy and responsible citizen.

    5. Family Needs be abandoned and national requirement be adopted. My one of ex-employer (in 1976 near Jallandhar) was having five daughters and out of his need to have a male successor another two girls were born and then 8th child was son. It is happening in most families.

    I am very much STRONG on my view point that neither a son nor a daughter helps a person to remain in History. He/She him/her self writes his/her own history. Jinnah and Gandhi (Many others also) are alive in History due to their own sacrifices and we never ask about them from their son or daughter.

    6. It should not be the duty of a wife to use contraceptive. Husband must also share this responsibility.

    7. Every household should plan their family as per their sources. One can observe easily that a well to do family is having two or three children and hand to mouth families are having more.

    8. Govt. must encourage citizen by adopting various methods and schemes: woman health care, child health care, special facility in job and concessional allotment of houses etc. etc. to the smaller families.

    9. Religious and family sentiments be counseled by Govt. in a professional and friendly way but not in a commanding or order way.

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