Pakistan has multiple challenges and crises, but one that has often escaped attention of its leaders is that of demographics. Experts have often warned of the population explosion that has taken place over the years but has been ignored.
According to Zubeida Mustafa, “With 18,000 children being born every day and the total fertility rate 3.3 one can imagine what an average woman’s life would be like. These figures translate into a heavy workload for the mother who also has to cope with her own poor health. It also ensures the family’s slide below the poverty line. For the country, a high population growth rate (2pc) has a disastrous impact on the national economy and planning in the social sectors. In 2017, Pakistan’s population stood at 208 million. In 2021, it has shot up to 225m. At this rate, the rapid rise in numbers will neutralise all progress made over the years. In fact, this could drag us back to the brink of disaster.”
Mustafa calls for a holistic strategy towards gender relations in human development that is sorely lacking. She argues, “that uplifting the status of women by empowering them through education and inducting them into the labour force and giving them a role in decision-making brings down fertility rates.” Further, Mustafa points out that if we look at the clinical side of the issue, Pakistan has a very “low contraceptive prevalence (a stagnating 26pc) and worse still, the huge unmet need (17pc) speak volumes for the government’s inability to enforce accountability.”
She cites the example of Bangladesh: “In 1971, when we parted ways the country had a bigger population than Pakistan’s. Now Bangladesh is way down with 160 million while Pakistan is way ahead. Although women there also complain about not being provided the treatment they deserve the statistics relating to women are definitely better than ours.”