TFT SPECIAL: On Track For 300 Million, Will Pakistan’s Population Bomb Explode?

TFT SPECIAL: On Track For 300 Million, Will Pakistan’s Population Bomb Explode?
Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, with a projected population of over 400 million by 2050. This growth in population presents limited resources and opportunities for economic and social development, it also poses significant challenges, particularly in the realm of gender equality. As per the leading economists Pakistan is facing one of the biggest challenges in terms of ‘Population explosion’. Pakistan has the highest fertility rate among South Asian countries, which is twice as high as that of Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

The swift surge in the population not only impacts the progress of the country on a larger scale but also leads to the infringement of human rights. Due to the escalating population and the constraints of limited resources, meeting an individual's basic necessities becomes an arduous task. The government of Pakistan is obliged to guarantee fundamental rights to every citizen according to the constitution. The Supreme Court of Pakistan bears the responsibility of ensuring the implementation of these fundamental rights.

Given the rapid population growth, it is nearly impossible for every individual in the country to enjoy their fundamental rights, such as the right to education, health, a healthy environment and most importantly, the right to life which includes access to clean drinking water, sufficient food for survival and clean air.

Unwanted pregnancies curtail the well-being of women exposing them to reproductive health issues due to the absence of quality obstetric care services. Limiting women’s reproductive choices has negative consequences for society, particularly for vulnerable groups such as women and girls. Efforts to control fertility rates through policies and interventions are often misguided, as they fail to acknowledge the factors that influence such rates, including socio-economic status and access to education.

The interventions aiming to tackle population growth and reproductive empowerment in Pakistan are inadequate, as they focus solely on increasing access to contraceptives while disregarding other critical factors such as lack of education, inadequate knowledge about reproductive health and poverty. Consequently, contraceptive prevalence in Pakistan remains low at 26% and nearly 6 million children at born each year without the access to essential healthcare, education or employment opportunities, leading to outburst of unemployed population.

The unawareness and lack of knowledge of doctors about the laws of abortion is fatal for women and their reproductive health. As per section 338 and 338(B), termination of pregnancy is a punishable offence, unless it is carried out under ‘good faith’, or to save the life of the woman through the ‘necessary treatment’ to her. In other cases, abortion is punishable with imprisonment for three years or more, depending upon the consent was sought by the woman or not. The terms ‘good faith’ and ‘necessary treatment’ are vague and are not defined under the law which makes the healthcare professional reluctant to follow the procedures. Hence, making women approach to unsafe abortion facilities.

One of the major root causes of over-population is early child marriages. About 4.6 million girls are married before the age of 15 and 18.9 million girls are married before the age of 18 which not only impacts the literacy rate of women of the country but also has ranked our country in the world to the third most with the highest mortality rate in the world.

The rapid growth in population does not only have a negative effect on the reproductive health of women but it also adversely affects the earth’s capability to withstand climate change due to deforestation and absorb the harmful emission such as through deforestation as land is converted for the agricultural purposes to feed a growing population. The more the population, the more would be houses made on agricultural land. There would be depletion of resources leading to poverty and more accumulation of harmful gases in the environment giving rise to harmful diseases.

There is a dire need of strict family planning policies and awareness programs in Pakistan, especially in rural areas. A rights-based model should be adopted, which prioritizes the improvement of education, poverty reduction, employment opportunities, and female representation in the work force.  In order to create a more economically empowered society, it is essential to address the root causes of population growth through comprehensive and inclusive policies that recognize the complex nature of this issue.