Pakistan Opinion: Our Population Time Bomb

ZUBEIDA MUSTAFA WRITES IN THE NEWSPAPER DAWN ON PAKISTAN’S HIGH FERTILITY RATE. Pakistan’s population is now almost 180 million. According to a UN report published in 2010, the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) is the second highest (after Afghanistan) in central Asia at 3.2 children per woman, compared to a replacement rate of 2.1 and a world average of 2.4. On the UN’s medium variant estimate which assumes a decline in the TFR to 1.84 by 2050, the Pakistani population will reach 275 million by 2050. With the constant-fertility variant (no decline in the TFR), the population would grow to nearly 380 million by 2050.

Mustafa’s article in Dawn starts here:

PAKISTAN’S Population Census Organisation’s website has a population clock on the home page which gave the country’s population as 179,850,379 on Tuesday — an average increase of 9,700 every day.

According to the National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS), Islamabad, the country’s population was 133.3 million in 1998 when the last census was held. This comes to a whopping increase of 34.8 per cent in 13 years (2.6 per cent per annum) which surprisingly has gone unnoticed. In effect we have slipped down from the two per cent (NIPS) or 1.8 per cent (World Bank) figure we were given as the growth rate for 2010.

We have regressed to the 1980s and this has phenomenal significance for the country’s economy, politics, quality of human life, law and order, in fact for its very survival.

If proof were needed of the apathy that marks people’s attitudes towards their own wellbeing, this is it. Not that everyone is uniformly indifferent. After all the marriage age of girls has gone up somewhat, female enrolment in school has increased and there is a remarkable growth in female awareness about the importance of small families and contraceptives. But the family size has not decreased and contraceptive prevalence remains dismally low.

We know little about the dynamics of family planning. It is assumed that women are irrational about motherhood. Hence new terms are coined to appeal to them to be sensible. What was simply family planning is now the Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancies programme to persuade them to have a gap of three years between their children to ensure healthy babies. That has hardly helped. What women want are the services. They are not empowered enough to get them on their own.

Take the case of Yasmin who is 29 years old and lives under the poverty line as defined by development economists. She was married at 21 (her eldest sister was married at 12). She has attended school and is quite fluent in reading and writing. Yasmin is expecting her fifth baby. She has experimented with various contraceptives and seems to be quite ill-informed about them all. READ MORE.