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Pakistan’s Population Policy Has Failed to Achieve Its Intended Purpose:

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Walait Khan

Despite the fact that Pakistan started its population programs early in the 1950s, it had no distinct population policy exclusively dealing with the population problem. As a country, our focus was on controlling fertility rates instead of dealing with the real issue of tackling demographics and population momentum. Historical analysis shows that although the population was mentioned in all five-year developmental plans, no substantial and separate policy for population control was designed. Neither of those implicit population policies were implemented in letter and spirit. Only in the Ayub Khan era was a Population policy designed because different stakeholders raised their concerns about issues of inadequate resources and infrastructure owing to the growing population rate. In that era, a consensus was built that Pakistan would not be able to achieve economic development unless it embraced family planning. It was also feared that Pakistan might lag far behind other regional countries because of its high population growth rate, but subsequent governments did not consistently follow policy; hence, it could not yield positive results. 

Instead, the subsequent governments considered it a religious obligation to let the population grow, and they used this population in Jihad (1979 Afghan War – Zia era). Later, the population policy in 2002 was severe and action-oriented compared to previous policies. It contains several elements that can be considered adequate to control the population. It seeks population stabilization through fertility and mortality rate declines to achieve its overall objectives. It targets reducing fertility through enhanced voluntary contraception use and reducing fertility to the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman by 2020. The long-term goal of this policy was to reduce the population growth rate to 1.3 per cent. It is achieving universal access to safe family planning methods by 2010 (Seems an overly ambitious policy).

To understand the reasons for poor policy outcomes several factors can be blamed for policy failures: No distinct and exclusive population policy goals, lack of political will and commitment, bad governance such as corruption and mismanagement, resource deficiency, religious constraints and widespread illiteracy, which can be seen in the high rates of adult illiteracy and limited access to quality education. In addition, consistent population growth also acted as an impediment to development. Another mentionable reason for policy failure is that we merged Family Planning with health policy and needed help comprehending the real issues. Moreover, certain leading hindrances such as gender inequality and low status of women, as well as persistent socio-economic, cultural, and administrative constraints are equally responsible for policy failures in Pakistan. We couldn’t successfully implement population policy and hence couldn’t achieve demographic dividends.

Changes Suggested in the Current Policy:

To advocate for an integrated and effective population policy, Pakistan should adopt a multi-sectoral approach at various levels with short-term, mid-term and long-term objectives. After the 18th amendment, population has become a provincial subject. By making it a federal subject, we can formulate coherent policies and implement them across all provinces of Pakistan, potentially leading to a more effective population control program.

First of all, there is a need to remove widespread illiteracy, which is, in a true sense, a mother of all ills in Pakistan. 

Secondly, the benefits of having small family sizes can be effectively communicated to the public through the media. The success of Family Planning programs can be ensured if our policies focus on demand-side reforms. When more people actively request the government to take steps to control population, the government will be compelled to take effective action. Therefore, educating and motivating individuals to make informed decisions about family planning is crucial, thereby addressing demand-side hurdles.

Thirdly, certain programs can be designed to guide and educate families regarding the importance of population control. ICT (Information Communication Technology) tools can also be an excellent resource for creating awareness among people. Similarly, religious leaders, as important community figures, can play a role in promoting the benefits of smaller families, while respecting individual choices and religious beliefs.

Fourthly, considering poverty’s inverse relationship with family planning, there is a dire need to reduce poverty so that poor people’s conditions may improve, hence our population policy. Poverty alleviation programs can be initiated through macroeconomic policies (Effective Labor and Trade Policies must also be incorporated to address this issue). similarly, enlarging the economy can prove fruitful because it would accommodate scores of unemployed. 

Fifthly, good infrastructure policies, including both grey and green infrastructure, will also help reduce inequality. One of the leading obstacles to gender inequality is the low status of women, which should be dealt with iron hands.

Sixthly, we need increasing postponement in marriage age because it can result in reduction in marital fertility (As happened in Japan) furthermore, increasingly ambitious targets, such as reducing the total fertility rate to 1.5 births per woman by 2030, need to be strictly enforced.

Seventhly, new innovation and community involvement models can effectively reduce fertility because people will change family preferences. In addition to this, contraceptive use can also be increased in this way. However, one should keep in mind that fertility decline cannot be merely attributed to high contraceptive use. Factors other than contraceptive use are also equally important because we have an example of Indonesia, where low fertility and low contraceptive use can be witnessed in such a design, and policies can also be incorporated into our country’s population policy by keeping in mind local aspirations and demands.

Lastly, only writing mere policy statements will not change behaviour; therefore, Pakistan needs to benefit from the rising working-age population because demographers rightly argue that a declining dependency ratio offers a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to make a prosperous nation. We need to learn from the policy experiences of other developing countries and formulate our policies by considering the recent demographic realities in Pakistan, such as the high population growth rate, the large youth population, and the increasing urbanization. An effective population policy should include strategies regarding reduction in the rate and incidence of unwanted fertility; reduction in demand for large-size families; greater investment in adolescents to tackle the population momentum problem.

It can be concluded that Pakistan is facing a population explosion due to certain associated issues that halt its progress. Therefore, the problems of population explosion must be dealt with efficiently by devising comprehensive and effective population control programs and rigorous implementation at every nook and corner of the country. Previous policy neglect can still be corrected if we wake up and try to address this issue on priority. Failure to do so would magnify the current problems to the extent that things may get out of control as per UN predictions.

The time has come for all stakeholders, including the government, non-government organizations, religious leaders, and the public, to unite and cooperate to achieve tangible results in population policy outcomes. Overcoming policy obstacles in Pakistan requires the commitment and willingness of political and religious leaders, emphasizing the collective responsibility we all share in addressing this issue. 

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