Sunday, September 4, 2011

Overpopulation is Pakistan's worst enemy

By: Shaukat Malik

Every child born through nature’s miracle whether planned or unplanned has certain inherent and inalienable rights. It is not the child’s fault that his parent’s cannot provide for him. Invariably he will end up in a Madrasah and become a target for those who make their living from the evil of terrorism or exploitation of the vulnerable.

Pakistan cannot regain its economic footing without controlling population growth. On average a Pakistani women has four children. This is much higher than Iran at 1.8 and Bangladesh at 2.4 children per woman. If this is not stopped, Pakistan’s population will expand from today’s 180 Million, not counting Afghan refugees to 335 million by 2050—that is more people than the United States squeezed into a country not much larger than Texas.

Pakistan has more children under the age of 14 than the United States. This presents a serious infrastructure challenge to a poor country.

Girls get married at the average age of 14 and illiterate mothers-in-law demand a baby boy. A woman producing girls only is threatened with divorce and will keep trying for a boy. Illiterate women cannot access family planning programs, and birth control is equated to committing a sin and refusing God’s gift of life. Women who wish to have fewer children do not have access to birth control devices and are forced into unwanted pregnancies.

Educated girls will have fewer children but girl education is restricted by social and cultural factors like transportation, male teachers, and objections of male members of the family.

Fear of rabid religious extremists prevents political leadership from addressing the issue of family planning/birth control. Like pigeons close their eyes hoping that the predator will go away, Pakistan’s leadership is afraid to confront the family planning issue for fear of upsetting the pious population that votes for them.

Pakistan’s leadership has been advised to stay away from anything to do with family planning/birth control. Illiterate clerics whose counsel is sought by a large number of Pakistanis in the rural areas consider birth control a sin. According to these clerics, practicing birth control is tantamount to denying God’s gift of life and a terrible sin. They firmly believe that God will provide for every child that is born.

Yes. God provides but, God has given us a brain for thinking and planning the size of our family. In nature we have a predator vs. prey order to take care of the excess population; in Pakistan the Madrasah steps in and creates Monsters out of these unplanned children abandoned by their poor parents.

The environmental and social footprint of high birth rates is scary. Pakistan’s population is multiplying at an alarming rate. A poor man would rather spend five rupees on loaf bread than on birth control.

The Muslim world has introduced God’s will into the size of a family. Although there is no prohibition in the Quran on birth control, its practice is considered a sin. The clerics in an effort to support polygamy and the large number of children resulting from multiple marriages have used out of context verses in the holy Quran to campaign against family planning.

Nature is cruel and we must learn from its messages. A mother of six children awakened by a sudden flood –the recent floods in Pakistan are a case in point-- might be able to save two of her children but may have a tough time saving the rest.

Animals do not practice family planning or birth control but then we eat animals. As God’s supreme creation we are blessed with the ability to think, plan and invent. Family planning techniques were developed in the last century and are essential for the survival and future prosperity of every community.

Overpopulation in any setting presents a constant challenge to natural resources. Whether educated or not a human being needs shelter, food and clothing. As the world population grows it is becoming increasingly difficult to take care of increasing numbers.

A child in fulltime education does not become productive until he is at least 24-years old. An allocation must be made for each child in the family budget.

Aid agencies all rightly point to raising the level of education for women. An educated woman will have a career and by contributing to the family purse will be encouraged by her husband to have fewer children.

Overpopulation is overwhelming Pakistan’s underdeveloped education system. Everyday it is estimated that there are at least 10,000 more children waiting to enter school compared with the day before. Surplus children who cannot get admission end up in Madrasahs’ that may offer food & shelter but can offer little in the way of education necessary for learning a trade.

What can be done to fight overpopulation?

• Pakistan’s media has become a watchdog of government policy. It can play a vital role by donating air time and using popular television personalities to highlight the problem. Producers can make short films with a touch of humor to bring home the idea of a manageable small family.

• Pakistan’s political leadership must engage local religious leadership in their respective constituencies and persuade them to see the bigger picture of future economic prosperity through controlled population growth---if Iran and Bangladesh can do it why not Pakistan

• The aid agencies in addition to helping centers already in existence must help establish family planning centers in Pakistan’s remote areas including mobile family planning units that can provide birth control supplies and education to illiterate and poor citizens.

• Girls’ only schools should be built in remote conservative areas where established culture is against female education to encourage families to send their daughters to school. Educated women contributing to the family purse will be encouraged to have fewer children

• Family planning clinics must be revived to focus on providing family planning and birth control to Pakistan’s poor women. These centers can also provide basic healthcare education to the largely illiterate women population.

• Pakistan’s political leadership must publicly address this issue to highlight the urgent need for the implementation of a national family planning policy.

• Pakistan’s armed forces, whose soldier’s come from many remote areas should be educated in the importance of family planning and smaller families. Trained soldiers can be used to bring home the message of family planning to their respective villages.

Afghan refugee camps in Islamabad are a stark reminder of terrible slum-like conditions that await an over populated Pakistan. Effective family planning will have beneficial long term effects on Pakistan’s economy and environment. Pakistan government must act now to safeguard the future of today’s newborns. No amount of development aid can meet the needs of unplanned births that will invariably end up in extreme poverty and hardship.