Consider these two charts. The first shows population growth and the other income per capita over the past six decades for Pakistan and peer countries. Countries that have lowered population growth and perhaps seen a reduction in household size have seen income per person rise. There is an inverse relation. Persistently high population growth has limited Pakistan’s growth for income per capita. The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) recently said that 15,000 new babies were registered on the first day of the New Year—this translates to 5.4 million newborns in the year. In fact, according to World Bank’s predictions, if Pakistan keeps growing at the current rate, it will remain a low-income country even in the next 30 years.
More children means there is a higher need for natural and public resources like drinking water and housing, both of which are in dire shortage in the country. More children will need education and more youth will be added each year looking for gainful employment opportunities – fun fact: more than 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is under 30. Are we creating as many as jobs as required by the burgeoning population? Is there housing for the growing population? Are we providing our children with quality primary and secondary education so they can pursue higher education and professional careers? The answer is resoundingly no.
The Supreme Court took note of the subject, ordering the government and religious scholars to diffuse the “population bomb”. The committee formed made several recommendations to curb population growth including legislation to educate and counsel families, better family planning services etc. (read more: “Not far from the madding crowd”, Nov 12, 2018).
There is evidence from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran that door to door family planning services dispensed through lady health workers and doctors has worked. Distribution of free contraception to counseling through religious leaders and education of women has helped these countries lower population growth.
However, other evidence suggests that most developed countries have not introduced population control programs at all. Population growth has been curtailed naturally as more people were brought out of poverty, provided education and made part of the productive labour force. In fact, one could question the efficacy of population control programs without an equal focus on poverty alleviation, health and nutrition, and access to quality education across the populations with equal opportunities for boys as well as girls.
Consider why most poor households have more children. Yes, it is because they perhaps do not have access to contraception or the awareness of the options available to them. There can also be some religious reasons whereby some families equate the use of contraception with abortion. But predominantly, most poor households have more children because they provide economic security.
Many families have more children in the hopes of having more sons who can supplement their combined incomes. Moreover, lower female education and employment especially amongst poor families is another reason why these households have more children—mothers do not have a say in reproductive decisions, are not educated about their reproductive rights and they do not add to the household income which if they did, could lower the pressure to have more sons. It is a vicious cycle.
The government does need population control programs devolved down to district levels and ensure that community leaders are involved. However, there is no stopping population growth if the larger questions of poverty, education and employment are not addressed.