High population growth rate is one of the biggest problems in Pakistan’s economy. Yet there seems to be zero discourse on this ubiquitous issue. Such is often the case in nations where economic discourse is dictated only by the business community and macro economists, at the exclusion of the discourse generated by social scientists, environmentalists, ecologists and experts from ancillary fields (See also today’s Brief Recording section).
Thankfully though, days like World Population Day marked on July 11, exist as annoying reminders for countries like Pakistan where a population time bomb is clicking, and the failure to check high population growth rates has dangerous consequences. This column has too little space to discuss the matter in detail, but three important policy themes are worth pointing out.
First, contrary to popular myth, religious considerations aren’t the biggest drivers of population growth. Had that been the case, Pakistan’s would not have had 40 percent unwanted or mistimed pregnancies.
According to a survey, there are 2.2 million induced abortions (out of total 9 million pregnancies) every year in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. What does that tell you? It tells you that on the ground religious considerations aren’t responsible for the increasing supply of human beings. It also means that the government, the development community and the media need to tweak their programming policies accordingly.
Secondly, as Dr Zeba pointed out in today’s Brief Recording section, right messaging is important. It is not that the state should start ‘controlling’ population; indeed human beings should be allowed to have as many children they want to have. It’s their right. But the messaging should increase awareness about health, wealth and other benefits of having relatively lesser children or at least spacing them optimally.
When the government issues advertisements like ‘chota khandan; khushhal Pakistan’ (small family; prosperous Pakistan), it is essentially asking people to change their preference for the sake of the country. How exactly is this policy expected to work when we know that people tend to work for their self interest.
The campaigns, therefore, should talk about how ensuring good health of women and children necessitates child spacing; and how less is more in terms of the parents’ ability to raise the children financially and to give quality time to groom them into good human beings.
Remember that it is not only the monies that are important to raise children, but that parents need to give quality time to their children to be able to rear them as good person in today’s rat race society where, whether it is the rich or the poor, already an increasingly amount of time is consumed in eking out a living.
Lastly, the federal and provincial governments (population is a devolved subject) need to carve out a structure to ensure that population policy is really owned properly, and is not left as vestiges of power distribution. Because population affects education, health, poverty, inequality, consumption of food and utilities, and wide ranging of socio-economic issues, the population ministries should form one of the central pieces of socio-economic policies.
It is natural for political parties to look for short sighted five-year targets and milestones and avoid doing anything that’s high risk. This is why politicians tend to go for the setting up schools, hospitals, bridges, and other high visibility developments. And this is why population should feature as ‘highly important’ on the Charter of Economy that the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar only talks about and never actually does anything about it.