The Population Problem
Myth or a Time Bomb?
Overpopulation has been springing out great motley of problems like poverty, illiteracy, hunger, unemployment, human trafficking, global warming, depletion of natural resources, political unrest and so on. Therefore, the sooner the population problem is recognized as a serious threat, the better it is for the planet Earth — and those living on it.
But, perplexingly, there are still some sceptics who maintain that overpopulation is an over-stated problem. Due to such scepticism, the demographic denialism is on the rise across the globe. They assert that it is a natural process of having more children and one should not interfere with the processes of nature. Population explosion is hype, they maintain, and argue that if it were a dire threat to the planet, the governments around the world would have moved heaven and earth to control it, which is, currently, not the case. Government officials, politicians, analysts and even feminists blatantly deny the demographic realities of a fast-growing population. This denial, apparently, has many reasons like politics, profits, discrimination, religious beliefs, escapism and trepidation.
The deniers of overpopulation maintain that population control is only a ploy used to assault the individuals’ rights, especially those of women. They even accuse the feminists of misusing the women rights to force them to have fewer babies. They say one has complete control over one’s body and one should not be forced to produce less progeny. They say women are forced into abortion so as to produce fewer children, which is a direct assault on her reproductive rights. Even some feminists, though, consider population control as a violation of women rights.
The debunkers of population control opine that governments, which adopt family planning policies, scare people by population bomb. They cite China’s ‘One-Child Policy’ through which, they say, the world’s most populated country used the state muscles to limit births; women were given abortion against their will, and were sterilized without their knowledge. They even blame this for the shrinkage of China’s young working population, a condition also prevalent in Japan, Germany and Italy, which had been toiling for population control. China, in order to avoid workforce shortage, is now on the way to increase its population. China has allowed couples to have two children and is giving bonuses on having a second baby. The demographic denialists accuse that governments that adopt population control policies are prodded by Western countries, chiefly the United States, and international organizations, most notably UN – UNPF – to coerce population control.
The sceptics of population control have their own illusions that they do not want to break. Although no sane person would deny that the burgeoning population is causing natural resources to diminish, they argue that natural resources are plentiful.
Similarly, more population is adding to poverty, conflicts, unemployment, water shortage, high living costs, starvation and famine. But, they argue that more people means more goods and services which are good for a country. They argue that having more people is a plus point for a country as it provides more expertise and human capital, which can be harnessed for the country’s development – and that of the world as well.
However, had this been true, the most populous countries in the world would have been the richest ones. But that is not the case. The highest rate of population growth is found in the so-called failed states, where poverty, among other socio-economic indicators, is worst. On the contrary, the Global North, which is less populous than the Global South, is wealthier, more prosperous and more peaceful.
In Pakistan, the fifth most populous country in the world that also has one of the highest growth rates, more population is treated as an asset. Even some influential economists see the rapidly-increasing working population as an asset as higher number of working hands will bring additional earnings, which, in turn, is good for the sagging economy of the country. They say, Pakistan has a young population in an ageing world and it will create more products and services, and more human capital for export. Indeed, human capital, in the form of productive population, is the most valuable asset as it can contribute to the national progress. But Pakistan, unfortunately, has neither political will nor resources to invest in this so-called asset. Pakistan spends mere two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education, which is paltry as per the international standard. Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of out-of-school children. Education is of poor quality; 32 percent of our young generation cannot read. Literacy rate is hovering around 60 percent since long. Creativity and critical thinking are also lacking. Over half of the country’s population lives on less than two US dollars a day.
Apart from this, Pakistan has poor governance and poor quality of labour and products. The so-called youth dividend, which enters the labour market in abundance every year, is mostly uneducated and unskilled. Efforts to uplift youth are only limited to half-baked schemes and political verbiage. As a result, Pakistanis are faring badly insofar as global competitiveness is concerned. And mind you, Pakistanis are not as skilled, educated and malleable as are the people from other nations in our region. All this shows that the so-called youth bulge is a burden on, not an asset to, the state. Such frustrated youth is always prone to falling prey hostile elements.
Thus, looking at the ground realities, and shunning the mantra that population control is a myth, it is the need of the hour to control the ever-increasing population before it is too late. Poverty, poor, quality education or lack of it, child labour, human trafficking, economic and gender inequality, unemployment, environmental problems, etc. all can be controlled and managed only by controlling population.
However, in Pakistan, the idea of population control is not well-received, and it has many reasons.
First, due to behaviour of religious conservatives, family planning could not made headway in the country. Here, population control is considered a Western construct and conspiracy against Muslims to contain their population. Even the advocates of population planning are sometimes attacked, and labelled as puppets of the West.
Second, family planning is no less than a taboo in Pakistani society. It is neither discussed nor does it get much public attention. In this regard, the behaviour of population-planning workers is not so cooperative and satisfactory. Pakistan is among those countries that, due to one reason or another, are still not offering family planning services widely through the healthcare systems.
Third, and probably the foremost, reason of rapidly growing population in Pakistan is the lack of political will and proper policies on the part of the government. Since long, no serious effort has been made to control the country’s population, which has recently surpassed the Brazil’s, making the country the fifth most populous nation on Earth. Every government, be it civil or military, by shunning its responsibility, shifts blame to the general masses that it is their irrational behaviour that leads to overpopulation.
Let’s, for the sake of argument, accept that high population growth is a result of people behaving irrationally, but what has led to this irrationality? It is the responsibility of government to educate people in all respects, including population control. Most people are unaware of family planning. The state has badly failed to educate the masses in this regard. Moreover, bad governance and illiteracy, especially female illiteracy, are the two main bottlenecks to the family-control programs in the country. Onus of both squarely lies on the government.
Evidently, the political leadership has been mum over the issue of overpopulation. This silence may have two reasons: either it has no will or it does not want to irk the religious right by bringing up the topic of overpopulation. The government took religious scholars and leaders on board to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, can’t it do the same to curtail the population growth? The seriousness of the government can be gauged from the inclusion of population control in the recently released National Security Policy. Though the ‘population management’ has been included in it, it does not outline how to manage it.
Furthermore, governments initiate plethora of poverty-alleviation and social schemes but do not bother taking any solid steps to tackle overpopulation, which is one of the leading causes of poverty.
China, for instance, alleviated poverty and did economic miracle only by bringing down its population numbers. Pakistan can learn from China’s success.
Another model to emulate is that of Bangladesh. Its population, which was higher than Pakistan’s in 1971, is now less than Pakistan’s. Compared to 2.4 percent, Bangladesh has brought its population growth rate to one percent, and despite that it is among the fastest-growing economies. It is also doing well on other social and human developmental indices.
Pakistan can also follow another Muslim country, i.e. Iran, which has greatly controlled its population. In the late 1980s, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khameini decided that Iranian economy could not handle the fast-growing population. Thus, they took the religious scholars on board and used pulpits to aware the masses of population control. Contraceptives were made available for free at government clinics, and health workers increasingly educated the people on family planning. Along this, the state-run television was used to disseminate information about birth control.
To cap it all, overpopulation, indeed, is an existential threat to the healthy survival on this planet. However, its catastrophic effects can only be mitigated through vigilant practices and proper policies. Better policies and greater investment in health and education can help the so-called youth bulge to be a bonanza for the country. Otherwise, it may become a burden on the national exchequer and even a threat to the national security. However, in the current scenario, one can only hope that the latter never happens.
The author is currently serving as an educator in KP government. He can be reached at: email@example.com