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Old Friday, May 25, 2007
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Default Truth about population growth

Truth about population growth

THE government has been painting a rosy picture of the population scene in Pakistan. But a document prepared by some donor agencies has exploded the myth propagated by the prime minister that the population growth rate has come down to 1.8 per cent and will be further reduced to 1.3 per cent by 2020. The document obtained by this newspaper says that the population is growing at the rate of two per cent per annum. The Unicef puts it at 2.2 per cent. Not much will be gained by juggling with figures to deceive people since erroneous calculations will only result in lopsided planning. Besides, it lulls the population policymakers into a false sense of complacency with no effort being made to analyse the factors that are contributing to such a high population growth rate in Pakistan and rectify these.

There are basically two reasons which have pushed up the demographic growth rate. One is the usual story of failures in the delivery of contraceptive services. As has been the practice in other areas of the social sector, the government has been disengaging itself from the population welfare programme leaving it to the NGOs — 264 of them have been registered with the National Trust for Population Welfare — to attend to this sector. Although many of the NGOs are doing excellent work, their reach is limited. They have 479 outlets when the government has nearly 2,500 centres. Again, as is the case with the health and education departments, the performance of the family welfare centres is below par and they have failed to make the impact they were expected to make. There has been talk of an appropriate strategy for the future with special emphasis on advocacy programmes, participation of communities in service delivery, and reducing unmet need for contraceptives. All this sounds impressive, but without efficient monitoring, it is unlikely that these family welfare centres will be activated and mobilised.

There is something more that needs to be looked into. This is the issue of gender equality which is directly linked to the success of a programme seeking to regulate the family size. Surveys have now clearly established that the key factor in determining people’s choice of the number of children they want to have is not so much religious beliefs as was the case once, but their expectations from their offspring. Considering the low status of women in Pakistan, the preference for the male offspring is usually pronounced. Their birth is seen to be an insurance policy for the parents for their future and a factor of social standing for the family. Therefore, the gender of the children and the order of their birth generally determine the family size. A country, where male prejudices are strong and women constitute the neglected section of the community, cannot succeed in curbing the galloping population growth rate. Now is the time to address the male biases in our society to change the attitudes of the people. This must be done at every level — in education, through the media, through political reforms, as has been done to some extent, by empowering women economically and socially, legislating pro-women laws and making the legal system women-friendly. If undertaken in earnest, such measures can bring about changes in the national status of women and thereby have an impact on the demographic factor.
Time is like a river.
You cannot touch the same water twice,
because the flow that has passed will never pass again.
Enjoy every moment of life.

I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.
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