Poverty, poor economic conditions and religious taboos have become major obstacles to family planning
he Punjab, the most populous province of the country, has an estimated population of 124 million as of last week, according to the Punjab Population Welfare Department. The department has teams in all districts to slow the rapidly growth in population.
The State Bank of Pakistan, in its 2021-2022 annual report, stated that the country’s population was growing and feared that this may contribute to its economic woes. The report, in its chapter The Promise of Pakistan’s Demographic Dividend? Highlights that “underlying these challenges is rapid population growth that adds a burden to the need for public and private infrastructure and government spending on public goods, while reinforcing poverty.”
The SBP noted that Pakistan had the highest dependent population after Nigeria. Upon closer examination, it was found that Pakistan’s population has grown in all age groups over the past six decades, with the largest increase being in the 0-14 age group. This means that economic growth resulting from an expanding working-age population is limited by the large number of dependents in the 0-14 age group.
Five decades ago, Pakistan had ranked 10th among the world’s top 10 most populous countries, with a population of 59 million. However, by 2021, the country had risen to fifth place with a population of 231 million and a compound average growth rate of 3.1 percent. If serious measures are not taken, it is feared that the population will continue to rise in the coming years. In a rural area known as Union Council Kot Hussain, located in Nankana Sahib, only around 42 percent of married couples use any contraceptive methods for family planning. The total population of UC Kot Hussain is 18,636, of which 2,981 eligible couples are targeted for family planning. Out of these, around 40 percent have been interviewed in an ongoing study. The district has a population of nearly 1.5 million.
According to data compiled thus far, as many as 33 percent of eligible couples are not using contraceptive methods because they wish to have a child or because a child is already on the way. Other major reasons for not using these methods include social and ‘religious’ pressure, hesitation and a lack of knowledge. Some also fear side-effects, Kashif Mukhtar Abid, district population welfare officer of Nankana Sahib tells The News on Sunday.
“In rural areas, such as our district, the adoption of family planning is slow due to a lack of education and poverty,” Abid saysW. “People believe that having more children will earn them more wages as daily labourers,” he adds. “Whether it is a boy or a girl, both are beneficial to them. Boys are sent to work in factories or workshops, and girls are sent to work in domestic roles in nearby households.” Abid has noted how family planning workers attempting to motivate couples to adopt family planning methods are often met with reluctance.
When family planning teams and motivators visit rural areas, nearly half of the eligible population declines the services citing religious reasons. “They say that the practice is against Islamic teachings.”
Generally, when family planning teams and motivators visit rural areas, nearly half of the eligible population declines the services due to ‘religious’ reasons. “They say that it is against Islamic teachings,” Abid says. “A lesson from a cleric at a local mosque holds more weight than any other message for them. Because of this, the Population Welfare Department has taken religious clerics on its payroll in ten districts of the province as a pilot project. Through this can emerge the true picture of Islamic teachings regarding family planning,” he suggests. He believes that policy level decisions should be implemented to overcome this issue and that a chapter on family planning should be included in textbooks.
On the recommendation of Salman Ijaz, the secretary of the Population Welfare Department, the government is also considering providing a special package, under the Punjab Ehsaas program, to families who adopt family planning measures, Director General of Population Welfare, Saman Rai, tells The News on Sunday.
According to data from the Population Welfare Department, contraceptive performance has seen a remarkable increase in 2022 compared to the previous year. Additionally, coordination at the district level with line departments, non-governmental organisations and civil society is ongoing through regular meetings. In the year 2022, a total of 1,551,732 eligible couples have been registered by field motivators in the Punjab.
During fieldwork, as many as 477,012 clients were referred to Family Welfare Centres. Of these, around 439,576 clients (92 percent) availed of family planning services. The total number of family planning clients who received services in the past year was nearly 4,855,784; the total number of general clients who received services in the past year was 3,244,300.
The director general emphasises that public cooperation is essential to overcome population-related problems. She states that district and tehsil-level administrative and technical teams are conducting real-time field monitoring of the projects.
In Nankana Sahib, the department is providing incentives to clients who have undergone surgeries for family planning. Due to poor economic conditions, some people are choosing these methods solely for the financial incentives, as highlighted by the district officer of Nankana Sahib. He believes that financial incentives can help mobilise people, but that adding such families to social protection funds can further aid this effort.
Recently, Dr Luay Shabaneh, the country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, met with Chief Minister Parvez Elahi at his office. They agreed to enhance cooperation for population welfare, specifically in family planning. To achieve family planning targets, both parties decided to put more emphasis on educating individuals in backward areas about the importance of family planning. They also plan to make family health clinics and welfare centres more functional through new initiatives and regular monitoring by district and tehsil-level teams.
Population growth is a complex issue. People’s choices are influenced by a variety of factors such as poverty, lack of education, social taboos and economic conditions. The State Bank of Pakistan’s annual report, highlights that rapid population growth is burdening the need for public and private infrastructure and government spending on public goods, while also reinforcing poverty. The picture in Kot Hussain in Nankana Sahib looks bleak, with a poor adoption rate of family planning methods.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com and waqargillani