Population Policies and
Sensing gravity of population explosion, international organizations and world community, led by developed countries, took concrete measures and laudable steps for reducing the population growth rate and, hence, were successful in reducing or controlling it, to a large extent. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in the year 2000 comprised goals like eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability. All member countries of United Nations (UN) were required to achieve these goals in the next 15 years, i.e. by 2015; however, only those countries were successful in making visible headway in achieving MDGs that were able to control population. In the year 2016, MDGs were replaced with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that contain goals that are similar to MDGs. All member states of the UN are required to achieve these 17 targets by the next 15 years, i.e. by 2030. But it is crystal clear that only those states will be in a position to achieve the SDGs that can successfully halt population growth.
On individual basis, too, many states have taken effective measures for controlling population. For example, China successfully enforced “One Child Policy” from the year 1980 to 2016 and it went a long way in tackling the problem of unbridled population growth. In the year 2016, China replaced “One Child Policy” with “Two Child Policy” owing to some social and demographic issues. Many European countries as well as Japan are success stories in this regard. In Japan, census is held every five years. Since 1945 Japan has either experienced slight/negligible increase, or decline, in population. In the 2015 census, for example, Japan saw a reduction of one million in population and this decrease reached 1.4 million in the year 2020.
The intelligentsia and academia have also played a pivotal role in highlighting the seriousness of the problem of population growth and in persuading the general public about utility of family planning. Michael Hart in his bestseller “The 100” has included American biologist Gregory Goodwin Pincus in the list of 100 most influential international personalities who left indelible effects on human history. Pincus played a principal role in development of oral contraceptive pill named ENOVID in 1950s. The pill has three-fold importance:
First, it is an agent for population control that slashed fear of overpopulation. Second, it brought a change in sexual mores/norms by ending the fear of pregnancy/reproduction sequel to copulation.
Third, it provided relief and ease to the women as before this pill, the most important contraceptive was Diaphragm (Dutch cap) which is a thin plastic or rubber membrane that is fitted over the neck of womb before intercourse to prevent conception, but its use is very painful, troublesome and risky. ENOVID considerably increased life expectancy among women.
Islamic teachings are not at all against family planning as wrongly perceived and projected by some orthodox religious scholars. The Quran and Sunnah ordain that it is the responsibility of mothers to breastfeed their babies for two years which becomes a natural method of birth space of about three years. In verse 233 of Surah Baqarah (Chapter the Cow), Allah Almighty says:
“The mothers should suckle their children for two whole years.”
Similarly in verse 14 of Surah Luqman, Allah Almighty says:
“And we have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years – give thanks to Me and to your parents. To Me is the final destination.”
In verse 15 of Surah Ahqaf (Curved sand hills), the period of bearing child and weaning has been prescribed as 30 months. In this verse, Allah Almighty says:
“And we have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty months.”
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “A strong/physically fit Muslim is better than a feeble/physically weak Muslim.” And it is quite clear that without proper birth space and family planning, it is not possible to have healthy and strong children. Islam prescribes planning in each and every sphere of life. The whole Surah Yousuf of the holy Quran is about the importance of proper planning. Islamic teachings enjoin that we should not lift the burden that is beyond our strength and capacity. In this regard Allah Almighty says in verse 195 of Surah Baqarah:
“An do not put yourself into destruction with your own hands”.
During the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), modern means of family planning were not available; however, even at that time, people used to practice a traditional method of family planning called AZAL or “Coitus Interruptus” in which the man ejaculates outside sexual organ of his female partner during intercourse. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) did not prohibit companions from practicing it. However, as it deprives a woman of her right to sexual satisfaction, her consent was required. The Degree (Fatwa) committee of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy has declared that family planning does not contradict Islamic teachings. It has also declared that family planning is acceptable when practiced for hygienic, economic and social reasons and when the husband and wife agree to use it.
In Muslim countries like Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and Bangladesh, broad-based consensus of clergy has been garnered in support of family planning and it greatly contributed to decreasing population growth rates there. However, in Pakistan, we are not yet successful in getting the unequivocal and complete support of clergy for family planning due to which we are among those countries that are having the highest population growth rates in the region.
In our country, the issue of population explosion is very serious and, if not handled prudently, it would lead to further exacerbating the social and economic conditions of the people. The gravity of the situation can be judged from the fact that from our independence till now, we have seen more than six-fold increase in population in a span of just over 70 years. In the first census of 1951, our population was 33.7 million that surged to 42.9 million in 1961, 65.3 million in 1972, 84.2 million in 1981, 132.3 million in 1998 and 207.8 million in 2017. Only ten years ago, Pakistan was the world’s 6th most populous country but now it ranks as the 5th most populous.
Owing to population explosion, the world, especially the developing and poor countries, are confronted with serious problems. Firstly, it has led to rapid urbanization as the people are moving to cities, and rural population is dwindling rapidly. The increased urbanization has led to the creation of megacities throughout the globe. At the moment, the ten most populous cities of the world are: Tokyo (37 million), Delhi (28.5 million), Shanghai, (25.6 million), Sao Paulo (21.6 million), Mexico City (21.58 million), Cairo, (20.1 million), Mumbai (19.98 million), Beijing (19.6 million), Osaka (19.28 million), Dhaka (19.5 million), New York (18.9 million) and Karachi (15.4 million). The establishment of big cities brings along with it big problems. Enhanced urbanization has led to enhanced industrialization. Secondly, the enormous increase in world population, together with rapid urbanization and industrialization, has taken a heavy toll on environment as it has dangerously increased air, soil and water pollution. It has also badly affected Ozone layer, leading to global warming and negative changes in weather trends. Thirdly, the population explosion has led to food crisis in developing countries. Fourthly, the existing freshwater resources have been rendered insufficient to cater for the needs of increased population and it is feared that future international wars/onflicts would be fought on the basis of water. Fifthly, due to unplanned population growth, the people of developing countries are not having adequate and proper access to basic amenities of life. The basic facilities of health, education and civic services in developing countries cannot fulfil the needs and requirements of an increased population that has generated health hazards and social issues like rise in illiteracy rate, mortality rate and lawlessness, etc. Owing to the resulting social unrest, tendencies of wars, conflicts, anarchy and turmoil are increasingly bringing miseries for humanity globally.
Therefore, the need of the time is to accentuate on the issue of population explosion and to accelerate individual and collective efforts for reducing population growth rate.