HomeLatest NewsPakistan's population explosion - a blessing or a curse?

Pakistan’s population explosion – a blessing or a curse?


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As Pakistan’s population exceeds 240 million, the nation is grappling with a demographic crisis, calling for urgent reforms to curb the growing threats of poverty and inequality.

Imagine a world with only five billion people. It was on July 11, 1987, that the milestone was reached, marking the first World Population Day (WPD). Fast forward to 2023, and our planet is now populated with a staggering eight billion inhabitants. This explosive growth highlights the pressing challenges and opportunities that come with such a rapidly growing global population, affecting sustainable development, health and well-being.

At the center of this population growth is South Asia, home to more than 2.2 billion people. Among these countries, India leads the way with a population of 1.4 billion, followed by Pakistan at 240 million and Bangladesh at 172 million. These statistics are not just numbers; They are the pulse of a region undergoing significant demographic changes, calling for immediate and effective policies to manage these changes.

Pakistan, in particular, is facing a dire situation. With the highest population growth rate in South Asia at 1.96 percent, the country is grappling with myriad challenges. The quality of human resources is under stress, resources are stretched thin to meet growing demands, and the country remains vulnerable to the shocks of extremism and climate change.

Fertility rate – the story of uneven progress

From 2010 to 2015, Pakistan’s fertility rate was 69 percent higher than that of Turkey, Iran, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Today, its fertility rate of 3.6 remains the highest in South Asia, painting a bleak picture of its demographic reality.

Therefore, it is imperative to examine policies that have failed to curb skyrocketing population growth.

Pakistan started its family planning initiative in 1965, while Bangladesh followed a decade later in 1975. Today, the reproductive health standards of these two countries tell a different story. Bangladesh’s family planning program has been nothing short of a miracle, raising the contraceptive prevalence rate from a paltry 8% in 1975 to a staggering 62% in 2018. With this increase, the total fertility rate fell from 6.3 to just 2.3 children per woman.

Pakistan’s progress, though commendable, is a story of uneven steps. Declining fertility and population growth have mainly benefited the wealthy. The Pakistan Demographic Health Survey reveals that in the lowest wealth quintile, the total fertility rate was an alarming 5.8 in 2006-07, falling slightly to 4.9 in 2017-18. On the flip side, the top quintile saw rates of 2.3 and 2.8, respectively, during the same period.

This stark disparity calls for a deep dive into the root causes and complex decision-making processes at play. High fertility rates remain among the poorer sections of society, who see children as essential contributors to family income. Understanding and addressing these complex dynamics is critical to creating effective population control policies.

Young, illiterate and neglected

In 2016-17, 13.7% of children aged 10-17 were involved in child labour, as reported by the International Labor Organisation. What is more alarming is that 5.4 percent of these children were engaged in hazardous work that threatened their lives and future. This exploitation isn’t just a tragedy for children – it’s a ticking time bomb for the nation’s workforce – setting the stage for a generation of uneducated and unskilled workers.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sheds light on an even darker reality; 22.8 million children between the ages of five and 16 are out of school in Pakistan. Instead of learning in classrooms, these children are toiling in car mechanic shops, selling vegetables on street corners, or begging for their next meal. This dire situation reflects the sheer negligence of the government in utilizing its most valuable resource – its youth.

But there may still be hope. Conditional cash programs, mid-day meals, and stricter laws against child labor can turn this tide. Policies should focus on adult employment, reducing the tax burden on the poor, providing universal healthcare and education, and expanding social security coverage for the needy to prioritize quality over quantity of children. .

The focus of family planning policies on improving access to contraceptives is commendable. However, the data show that simply expanding outreach is not enough to achieve the desired results—significant declines in fertility. The experience of Bangladesh shows that a multi-pronged approach is necessary.

This includes ending gender stereotypes with the help of religious leaders, boosting girls’ school enrollment, and empowering women through self-employment opportunities, digital literacy, and better access to contraceptives across the country.

Reproduction rights or wrongs?

In Pakistan, the backlash against family planning advocates is not just a debate; This is a terrible misunderstanding. Many, even among the educated, see family planning as a violation of their reproductive rights, depriving them of divine gifts. This profound misconception has thwarted the success of heavily funded family planning initiatives over the years, indicating an urgent need to rethink policy strategies.

Traditionally, family planning programs have targeted women, sidelining men and family elders. This focus has limited women’s choices, limiting birth spacing decisions in traditional societies where women often lack a voice in reproductive matters.

Gender assumptions define the role of childbearing for women as fundamental to their dignified survival in the family and society. In rural areas, feudal power structures encourage women to have more children to gain more agency, as they are entitled to larger shares of land and property.

Recently, there has been a significant increase in radical views advocating restricting women’s mobility, encouraging polygamy, and supporting early marriage. If these ideas do not come within the ambit of challenging the law of the land, what message do they convey?

Unfortunately, these extremist elements are roaming freely, enjoying complete freedom to humiliate women in public and being applauded by the media and vested interests. The role of the government in combating these gender stereotypes is minimal.

Work or womb – no woman should have to choose

With the majority of parliamentarians being men, increasing women’s political participation, especially at the local level, is important. It can address key issues related to women’s safety, and rights to sexual and reproductive health.

Labor Force Survey data from 1990 to 2020 show that women’s labor force participation declines around childbearing age. This alarming trend reflects the resilience of our labor market, which is plagued by issues such as inadequate maternity leaves, fewer childcare spaces, and inadequate maternal and child health care.

On a brighter note, several policies have been introduced to address these barriers head on. The Maternity and Paternity Leave Act, 2023, the Punjab Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act, 2016, the Punjab Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Sindh Maternity Benefits Act, 2018, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Maternity Benefits Act, 2013, all bring significant reforms.

Nevertheless, their disparate arrangements and adequate implementation highlight an urgent need for effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

Increasing the job quota for women in all sectors can be a concrete step towards achieving gender equality in the workplace. It’s time to turn policy promises into real-time progress so that no woman has to choose between motherhood and her career.

Quality over quantity

Pakistan is grappling with another key challenge: the declining quality of its human resources. The Migration Report 2022 reveals a shocking figure in which 92% of Pakistani migrants go to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Surprisingly, half of these migrants are either unskilled or low-skilled workers. Adding to the dismal picture, women constitute only 1% of these migrant workers.

But the troubles don’t end there. Desperate for a better life, many Pakistanis of working age resort to illegal channels to migrate. The Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) reported an embarrassing figure – about 250,000 Pakistanis have been deported, mainly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This not only tarnishes the reputation of the country, but also points to a deeper crisis.

Sharp provincial allocation of resources under the National Finance Commission (NFC) is another dilemma we are currently facing. With population accounting for 85% of the weight, the formula prioritizes numbers over quality.

This reflects a preference that sidesteps population control efforts, as a larger population means a greater share of national resources and an increased likelihood of forming a government at the federal level.

When political success depends on population size, population quality becomes a secondary concern. There is a dire need to revise the NFC formula to consider other important indicators such as growing regional disparities and poverty.

Inappropriate population growth, coupled with inadequate planning, spells doom for a country already stressed by scarce resources, mounting debt burdens, poor growth and development scenarios. This critical condition increases vulnerability to shocks and increases abuse.

Gender mainstreaming at all levels of planning and development is very important to promote an inclusive society. This includes providing opportunities for women in education, jobs, policy making and planning. Strict action must be taken against those who oppose women’s reproductive rights.

Pakistan stands at a crossroads. Addressing these multifaceted challenges is not just an option—it’s a necessity. The future of the nation depends on it.


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