Burgeoning Population of Pakistan
A Ticking Time Bomb?
We are living in a century of population explosion where the time bomb of rising population is on ticking mode, and is approaching fast its threshold level. Our sheer indifference towards the issue—itself an issue—has only made the situation worse. And, Pakistan still does not seem to have population control measures on its radar.
According to the latest estimates, population of Pakistan is around 221 million, making it the 5th most populous country in the world. Besides, Pakistan has the highest population growth rate among SAARC countries at 2.8% which means an addition of 3.6 million people every year.
Interestingly, young people make a major chunk of Pakistan’s population. According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan, 64% of the country’s total population is below 30 years of age. It makes Pakistan one of the youngest countries in the world and second youngest in the South Asian region, after Afghanistan.
This huge youth bulge means Pakistan’s population will continue to grow steeply for a long time to come. And if present trends continue, by mid of the ongoing century, according to the World Bank projections, Pakistan may have as many as 338 million people. While some health experts believe that if couples continue to have unplanned babies, Pakistan’s population will double from the current 220 million to 440 million by 2055. The more the youth, the more the chances of rapid population growth, thus affecting the country directly.
Indubitably, youth has a critical impact on a country. If government invests in its youth through education, employment and other opportunities, and utilizes and engages them properly, the youth can serve as a catalyst for development and prosperity of the country. More youth means larger young workforce, which brings additional earnings, which, in turn, could be a boost to a sagging economy. However, on the other hand, if not handled properly and not provided with meaningful engagement in society, the country may face disastrous consequences. Neglected and unemployed youth is more prone to destructive tendencies, and thus can disturb the law and order situation, rule of law, natural environment, and so on.
Due to one or another reason, Pakistan has not, regretfully, taken benefit from its youth bulge. A huge youth population is still uneducated, unskilled, marginalized and is alienated by, and frustrated with, the state policies. And, owing to the lack of resources Pakistan has, such a youth could be a burden on an already fragile economy.
Overpopulation has had effects not only on country’s economy and resources but also on its law and order situation, employment, environment and climate change, flora and fauna, and natural habitats. Interestingly, the current Covid-19 pandemic, as some reports suggest, is also the result of overpopulation. According to an article published by Stephan McCarty in South China Morning Post, Covid-19 pandemic is a human overpopulation problem. “This unchecked expansion into new habitats,” he writes, “is bringing humans into increasing contact with wild animal pathogens against which we have no biological defences.” He concludes: “We must stop proliferating.” Thus, acting upon his advice, one must not lose interest in measures to control the burgeoning population so as to avoid negative impacts of overpopulation.
However, population control measures in Pakistan have not been considered as necessary as they should be. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan, a rapidly growing country with high fertility rate, has lower rate of access to birth-control devices than the regional average. Here, considered as taboo, advertisements regarding family planning and use of contraceptives have been banned on public media.
Moreover, a discussion about family planning always invites a barrage of criticism from the conservative and religious circles. They opined that population control is something programmed by anti-Islam forces who want to keep Muslim population in control. Lady health workers and other staff, especially in the countryside, are looked at with suspicion, as if they are spreading immorality and obscenity in simpleton womenfolk.
The conservatives take modern family planning as a western ploy which transgresses Islam. They say one should reproduce as many babies as possible to increase the Muslim Ummah, which ought to be the duty of every faithful. And, if someone tells them about lack of resources for proper upbringing of a child, they say Allah will provide the resources and no one will die of starvation. However, they should not ignore the fact that Allah has given us intellectual faculties using which one should cut one‘s coat according to one’s cloth, and that Quran has also instructed that children must not be deprived of proper upbringing. In verse 233 of Surah Al-Baqarah (2:233) it has been ordained: “Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term.”
Contrary to this, however, duration between two consecutive pregnancies in most cases is less than two years—37% of births still occur within 24 months of the last birth—depriving the children of their 2 years of complete breastfeeding, as the new pregnancy interferes with the breastfeeding and health of an already nursing child. Unsurprisingly, according to the government’s latest data, 33.3% of all children under 5 are underweight.
This trend deprives not only children of proper care but also mothers of their rights. Their youth passes in rearing the children, and they hardly have any free time to ask for their legitimate rights. Their health, too, is compromised. According to the government data, malnutrition is widespread among the Pakistani mothers.
Being incognizant of the menace of overpopulation, our conservative circles and mullahs complacently feel pride in large population to dominate the world without considering the fact that quality matters more than the quantity. The United Kingdom, which is comparatively a small country which once controlled 24% of the earth’s total land area—an “empire on which the sun never sets,” and still is a major power of the world, —still it has a population of around 66 million. It doesn’t mean that large population cannot make any progress at all; look, for example, at China which is the world’s most populous country and the second biggest economy—it may overtake the United States around 2027—but even it had implemented an aggressive “One Child Policy” for decades. However, it managed its population and made investment in its youth, both of which, so far, have been absent in the case of Pakistan.
It would be unfair, however, to blame the masses wholly for abhorring family planning; our medical fraternity and the government, too, have not taken the matter seriously. Healthcare providers do not consider an exploding population an issue, let alone accepting the responsibility of offering counselling and providing family planning to the general masses.
On their part, successive governments have failed to take any concrete actions for population control. Since Ayub Khan in the late 1950s, no Pakistani government has dared to promote family planning. In our parliament, even discussion on population control is something strange, let alone legislating on the same.
Though not under his jurisdiction, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, somehow highlighted the menace of overpopulation, citing it as “a bigger issue than water scarcity faced by Pakistan.” However, since his departure, and due to myriad challenges the PTI government is faced with, the issue has been put on the backburner.
Population control is, thus, a serious task to be completed by both the people and the government. A devoted nation through collective efforts can keep in check the rapid increase in population. Take, for instance, the example of China’s ‘One Child Policy’ (1980-2016), which led to the decline in China’s overall rate of natural population increase.
As the Khan’s government seems keen in learning from China’s success story, it should introduce population-control policies like China did. For implementation and enforcement of the same, it should offer financial incentives and preferential employment opportunities to those who comply, and impose sanctions against those who do not.
However, formulation of any such policy, and its implementation thereupon, would be a herculean task unless religious scholars/clerics are taken on board. Indeed, Ulema can play a critical role in population control. Iran and Bangladesh have successfully campaigned population-control programmes from the pulpit, Pakistan should also emulate it and involve ulema and prayer leaders to promote the same.
Moreover, the Holy Quran should be interpreted according to the context and it required the interpreters to have a thorough knowledge of Arabic language and grammar, hadith and jurisprudence, awareness of scientific knowledge of hadith and psyche of contemporary world and its people. Surely, if properly followed, Quranic teachings about family planning would mean smaller families.
Educating youth, especially girls, is another viable policy option to reduce fertility rate—number of births per women. It creates awareness about family planning, and empowers women to take their own decisions. Take, for instance, the example of Sri Lanka, which has literacy rate of 91%, but fertility ate there is 2.3, as compared to Pakistan’s 3.6. Lastly, the government should provide employment opportunities to the youth in order to benefit from its huge potential. The expanding young workforce, if managed properly, can bring additional earnings, which is good for the dwindling economy of Pakistan.
The population bomb, though seriously neglected since long, is ticking. Still having time, we should take pre-emptive steps to defuse it before it explodes.
The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org