Pakistan has one of the highest population growth rates in the region. According to the World Development Indicators, the population growth rate in Pakistan stood at 1.95% in 2017. On the other hand, the population growth for India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka was below 1.14%. The population of Pakistan stands at 207.8 million, according to provisional results of 2017 census reported by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, making it the sixth most populous country in the world.

Although in the long run, a large population can be a source of much-needed manpower for industrial development, it can also pose several challenges to developing countries that lack social safety nets such as effective welfare programmes as well as proper healthcare and educational facilities.

Fertility rate is 2.62 children per women in Pakistan, which is contributing to the rapid population growth. All other South Asian countries, except Afghanistan, have fertility rates close to the replacement level of 2.1, which is considered enough to maintain their population levels.

With that, average number of children below the age of 15 years is 3.2. This suggests that the dependency ratio, the number of dependents (who are either between the age of 0 and 14 or are above the age of 65), is too higher to maintain sustained population growth.

Needless to mention, population and development are inversely correlated. Inadequate access to healthcare facilities, poor supply of nutrition to mothers and children, are some of the factors that slow down the pace of development over a period of time.

Children surviving through the critical early years are often likely to be underweight or experience stunted growth. This not only reduces their ability to attend school but also reduces their chances of earning higher levels of income and moving up the social mobility ladder. In essence, such children enter a vicious cycle that keeps their households poor for generations.

According to the data on out-of-school children published by UNICEF for December 2017, 61% of the children from poorer households are out-of-school. Considering that the larger households tend to be the poorest, several children belonging to larger families fail to attain basic primary education. In addition, government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP was as low as 2.2% in Pakistan.

Successful family planning programmes require serious involvement of the government in providing knowledge and easier access of modern methods to the targeted population. In Bangladesh, female outreach workers were crucial in providing door-to-door information, motivation as well as contraceptive items to married couples across the country. In Iran, the clergy played an important role in supporting family planning programmes during the post-war era. Every couple in Iran has to receive mandatory counselling on family planning before being issued a marriage license.

One of the major reasons for the failure of family planning programmes in Pakistan is the apathy shown by successive governments and the conservative groups. As positive results of family planning programmes may take several years to realise due to the hidden momentum, family planning programmes do not receive the desired priority.

There is a direct relationship between educational attainment of females and choice of family size, as women receiving higher levels of education tend to opt for smaller families. Employment opportunities to females in the poorest households can increase the opportunity cost of childbearing, lowering the preference for larger family sizes. Labour-intensive industries, such as the apparel industry, that rely on unskilled and semi-skilled workers should be provided incentives to hire female employees belonging to the poorest households. Employment either on part-time or on contractual basis should also be encouraged. Welfare programmes such as the various income-support programmes must ensure that the recipients not only receive knowledge on but are also incentivised to adopt modern family planning practices.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2018.

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