The fault in our numbers

Fri, 06, 23

Just imagine the demand it puts on the already-depleting natural resources for food, housing, schools, health facilities, jobs, etc....

The fault in our numbers


A consultative workshop Voluntary National Survey and International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was recently held in Karachi by the Federal Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The UNFPA expects the world’s population to reach the mammoth figure of 10 billion by 2050. In particular, Sindh (Pakistan) alone will be home to 95.7 million people by 2050, according to the Population & Housing Census 2017-GoP estimates.

Just imagine the demand it puts on the already-depleting natural resources for food, housing, schools, health facilities, jobs, etc. Given the 2 percent annual population growth rate in Sindh, nearly five million more houses, 25 million jobs, and 25,000 more primary schools will be needed by 2040.

Hearing “population is a disaster” throughout the workshop reminded me of Solomon Lane and Bertrand Zobrist. Fictional as they were, these characters saw the dangers of overpopulation for what they were. Mad as they were, they came up with an even more disastrous solution – to kill untold millions to preserve the planet for the greater good; the greater the suffering, the greater the peace. Villainous as they were, they had Ethan Hunt and Robert Langdon to stop them and the apocalypse from unraveling in the nick of time.

But, are we that lucky? In fact, do we really want to sit around, acting like damsels in distress, waiting for a saviour? Or, now that we’ve identified the major issue – and the cause behind it – can we stand up and fight for our rights?

While the Sindh government has taken some measures to provide for its people, it has unfortunately failed to align its pace with the rapid growth of the population. This is especially true for youth and adolescents.

The fault in our numbers

Let’s begin with the good things

First and foremost, Sindh became the first province in the country to pass legislative acts against early marriage and protection of children’s rights. The Sindh Marriage Restraint Act 2013 prevents families from marrying off underage children, especially girls by setting a minimum age limit of 18 years for both males and females. This is an important step forward because it promotes gender equality and, with girls and women contributing to society, improves economic and social development.

The second thing of importance is the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013, which enables all 5–16-year-olds enrolled in public schools eligible to receive primary and secondary education free of any costs, including expenditure on textbooks and uniforms.

Another reform worth mentioning here is the Sindh School Education Standards and Curriculum Act 2015 developed by the Sindh Textbook Board in collaboration with the Bureau of Curriculum. The objective is to improve publishing standards and ensure the quality of learning material for all school grades.

Also, to overcome barriers to female education specifically, the Sindh Education and Literacy Department initiated the Girls Stipend Program which has been distributing stipends in all public schools since 2006. It believes the measure would increase the transition rate of girl students as they are promoted from class V to VI and then again from X to XI when the drop-outs are at the highest. Money, after all, acts as both an incentive for the girls to continue studying and a stress reliever for parents to not feel burdened by educating their children.

The fault in our numbers

The same department regulated teacher recruitment and attendance by implementing Teachers’ Biometric Verification in all divisions of Sindh. Similarly, interventions like the Sindh Education Management Information System and the public-private partnership between the Sindh government and Education Management Organizations support better functioning of public schools in terms of the resources involved.

Other notable achievements of the local government include the Sindh Telemedicine and Telehealth Act 2021 and the incorporation of the Nutrition and Health Curriculum in textbooks for Grades IX-XII. Besides, the Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority is promoting technical education and making the youth skilled as per international standards.

Having established the Center for Autism Rehabilitation and Training in 2018, the government has also shown interest in creating awareness and increasing social empathy for Autistic children in Sindh.

The fault in our numbers

What more can be done?

Sky’s the limit, really, when it comes to acting responsibly and achieving more for the sake of future generations.

Despite existing laws, more than half of the girls are out of school in the province, girl-child marriages have increased, ghost schools still exist, child labor is still preferred over “free (and quality) education,” and children with special needs still struggle with acceptance and access to equal opportunities everywhere. There’s no doubt that the government has a long way to go before it can claim to have actually achieved something.

Yes, they will need to continue investing in family planning, women’s empowerment, and the education of the youth while accommodating the growing population. But more than that it’s accountability, it’s monitoring and evaluation and it’s transparency of the system that is required to ensure equity before equality. Nobody should consider themselves privileged enough to be above the law or walk all over the rest.

The fault in our numbers

For instance, teacher training, scholarships, and financial aid should not be for a select few; rather, they must be offered on merit. If funds are being allocated to support family planning programs, then the authorities must see the investment is effectively implemented.

Additionally, educational institutes, public transport, and workplaces are some of the places that should be made accessible to all, including people with disabilities and people from low socio-economic classes, to bridge the gap in society.

Another important thing is that curriculum should be revised to ensure no obsolete or incorrect information is being taught to young children at school, especially if it’s concerning medical, scientific, historical or religious facts.

Last but not least, schools should prioritise the mental and physical health of two of the key stakeholders – teachers and students. As such, it should be mandatory for counselors and nurses to be present within the school and college premises.

The fault in our numbers

A final word

As a society, we’re brought together by many things – language, food, norms and values, dress codes, etc. But the interaction has remained mainly superficial, controlled by those in power. There is no dialogue, leaving us to create our own tiny bubbles to live in rather than face the harsh realities of life.

We’re repeatedly told there’s no defying the social expectations or the authorities so we proceed through each day, working in our individual capacities merely to survive. Even though we share the same goal at social, national, and even international levels, i.e., sustainable living, the disconnect between the different factions means we lag far behind in achieving that goal.

The outcomes of the ICPD Progress Review Consultation are meant to contribute to the formulation of evidence-based policies, strategies, and action plans for advancing the ICPD agenda in Sindh in key areas, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, poverty eradication and employment. The workshop acknowledged that the government must take the lead in coordinating efforts across various sectors and engage all stakeholders to implement sustainable solutions. The multi-faceted problems call for a more unified approach from various sectors and more tangible goals to limit population growth and provide basic necessities to the local people.