My doctor tells me that most Pakistani children are born by accident. As she put it, at the time of conception, there are no goals or aspirations to educate, no idea what kind of human being the couple might want to mould. And the act that creates new life comes with even less thought. For a man, the act is borne out of his urge to satisfy his desire for sex. A woman, however, complies out of obligation. Frequently, the man does not want to use contraceptives because it curbs his pleasure, or siring a child is evidence of his virility. Other times, it is the woman who wants to procreate because it keeps her useful; after all, bearing and rearing children is perceived to be her true purpose she must keep proving to her husband and her in-laws her fertility. We all know that none of these scenarios are limited to underprivileged households.
Whose fault is that? Not that of the ‘man’ and the ‘woman.’ According to a draft of the National Policy 2010 generated by the ministry of population and welfare, “what is striking about the recent few years is the recognition and realisation that family planning services have not kept up pace with the increased demand. The high unmet need for family planning services, the high levels of unwanted fertility and the large number of induced abortions to avoid having and rearing an unwanted child are reflection of this reality”.
An awareness campaign from the nineties comes to mind — do bachchay hi achhay. The impact of the use of such motivational media efforts cannot be emphasised enough. On my mother’s side of the family, the previous generation of her siblings birthed around six to eleven children. My generation, on the other hand, produced on average two to three, often quoting the catchphrase I mentioned above. Seeing a commercial is not the only reason, but it is an important one.
Why I bring this up now is because it is a core problem this country faces, more now than ever before. A few years ago, many middle-class Pakistanis would boast that no one in this country goes to bed on an empty stomach. I am sure it was not true then (we don’t call it ‘Denialistan’ for nothing!), but at present we can be completely certain that is a falsehood. Not only are there people sleeping hungry, they are starving. Entire families are killing themselves. Never before have I seen so many reports of suicide in the news. With unchecked population growth come innumerable other issues, just two of which are literacy and healthcare. Behind the issue of (il)literacy may lie part of the solution to what is projected as this country’s greatest problem: terror.
As I write this piece, I can see an article in the paper about a couple that has abandoned a baby at a hospital in Karachi. A couple of days ago, there was a news item on the bodies of two newborn babies found in garbage dumps of this metropolitan city of 18.5 million. The US Census Bureau predicts that in another 15 years there will be over 228 million people in this country. We can hope that Pakistan will be seeing better economic times by then. We can pray for it, but it does not seem likely. How will those people be fed, housed and cared for?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2010.
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