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The invisible economic Decimator

In economic terms denominator is a more appropriate word. However, decimator is a more appropriate description of how economic gains are eaten and destroyed by a major invisible factor – population growth. Decimators are those factors that kill one in at least 10 people or generally speaking much more. The general view on the birth of children is of great excitement in a household but all households taken together this birth of children at the highest rate is not only unfair to the children already born but to every new child born. As the number increases the resources at the disposal of households, especially in the lower income strata, and in the country, are creating huge socio economic challenges that deepen the economic and political vulnerability of the country.

The census that was finally conducted last year and is still hotly contested has produced alarming figures. The census states that the population has grown by 57 per cent since 1998, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world’s fifth-most-populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. With a birth rate at 2.4% we will be climbing the population ladder faster than the top countries. Unlike the other countries at the top, Pakistan will be spreading itself thinner and thinner on resources as more mouths and less to feed will make most incremental development and growth disappear behind this explosive increase in people per square inch, per capita, per class room, per toilet, per doctor, per job etc.

Population is no longer a ticking time bomb; it has already exploded. Literacy rates instead of going up have gone down from 60% to 58%; water, gas, electricity are all scarcer and poorer in quality; jobs are non-existent-an ideal recipe for extremism, lawlessness, terrorism and violence to breed. In this scenario the government’s announcement in response to the Chief Justice’s suo motu on formulating the task forces at federal and provincial levels to develop a comprehensive action plan on the findings of the task force report presented to the Supreme Court is a welcome step. The CCI meeting decided to reduce population growth rate of 2.4 per cent per annum to 1.5 percent.

Many analysts believe that this is an over-ambitious target as the lack of literacy and socio- cultural taboos will make this target a prolonged pursuit. This analysis may be right if the government pursues the strategy of the previous regimes. Most government’s would be politically afraid to take up a topic that had religious and social taboos as their rural voter may vote against this attempt to regulate family sizes. However, the fact that the Supreme Court has mandated the present government to form task forces, the issue of initiating the process is no longer a barrier. However to formulate a comprehensive plan it is important to keep to make it feasible, and time bound.

The government is very keen to follow the Chinese model of lifting almost 800 million people out of poverty. One key factor was that the Chinese strictly controlled population expansion. For them it was relatively easier as they legislated the one child law and imposed strict penalties on evaders to ensure adherence. Unfortunately, in a democracy this will not be possible. However other legislations to improve the facilitation of the campaign are mandatory. Legislations will include making family planning facilities mandatory at all public hospitals as part of the basic services offerings. The lawmakers need to lobby for making all lady health workers educated on family planning especially midwives so that in rural areas even if deliveries are done at home the mid wife is educating the woman about family planning need and facilities. Another law should be the minimum age to marry restraint law that makes a girl old enough to understand and plan a family.

Traditional family planning campaigns through advertisement are not totally effective. More of advocacy and narrative building is required. In the rural areas religion should be used to promote family planning. The Ulema declaration of family planning in the population summit 2015 is a good base to build upon. What is needed is the engagement of the local mosque spokespersons in every district. These religious spokespersons follow various Islamic Ulema. What is required is lobbying with them and treat them as your communication vehicles. Each renowned Aalim has an influence over thousands of mosque and madrassah spokespersons. A whole narrative based on Qur’anic research should be developed into a training program to be delivered district wise to equip the local mosque spokesperson to include these directions in the Friday sermons. The male members of the households in rural areas are heavily influenced by this communication channel. A monitoring team should assess if the sermons given are also including population planning as an Islamic value elements. Bangladesh is a success story of family planning and it was the engagement of the religious scholars that brought the rural areas anywhere close to the more urban area in family sizes.

Ultimately, community engagement is the key to this paradigm shift. The use of lady health workers for female advocacy and the religious leaders for male advocacy are the twin pillars to reset the mindset of those who are set in their medieval ways of thinking.

Andleeb Abbas, "The invisible economic Decimator," Business Recorder. 2018-11-26.
Keywords: Economics , Socio-economic challenges , Family planning campaigns , Economic terms , Comprehensive action , Communication channel , Medieval ways

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