Population explosion and deluded minds

Female education is useful in population control

Population explosion is considered as one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. It occurs when the number of organisms surpasses the maximum capacity of their habitat. The ticking bomb of population poses a severe threat to the national security of Pakistan. Pakistan’s population has pushed it up to the ranks of the world’s fifth most populous country with 230 million people. At the time of independence, the western wing of the country was home to approximately 43 million individuals. Every year, four to five million children are added to the population due to an alarmingly high growth rate of 2.4 percent. At this rate, Pakistan will likely have over 300 million people by 2030. It is an undeniable fact that no nation can climb the ladder of prosperity without first controlling its population growth rate. Pakistan’s rapid population growth is a major impediment to the country’s development and it has effects on nearly every aspect of the state.

Several factors are contributing to the rapid increase in the population of Pakistan, and low literacy rate is one of them. It is well-established that there is a causal association between a female going to school, even for a brief period of time, and having fewer kids in her lifetime as compared to a girl who does not go to school at all. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey in 2018 found that the average number of children born to uneducated women in Pakistan was 4.2 while the average number born to highly-educated women was 2.6. For instance, in Iran, where there has been a dramatic increase in female education, the fertility rate has dropped from seven children per woman in 1980 to fewer than two in 2006. This shows that illiteracy invites population explosion.

Moreover, having children increases the social standing as childless households are stigmatised and women are often treated differently if they don’t have kids. In Pakistan, a male-dominated country, people are not particularly concerned with the health of women who face the weight of many pregnancies and associated health difficulties. Either a pregnant lady or a woman who is nursing her child is an appealing partner for males. Likewise, the birth of boys is prioritizsed over the birth of girls, a wish of the majority of the citizens in Pakistan. It is a prevalent belief that a woman should keep giving birth until a boy or boys are born into the family. Hence, the deluded mindset is building a population bomb which poses a threat to the security of the state and well-being of people.

Another origin of high birth rates in poor and middle-class families is the mistaken belief that having children is a divine blessing. People overlook the other crucial religious teaching that parents are equally accountable for their children’s upbringing, which includes providing for their needs as they grow up. Islam encourages planning in all aspects of life. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) remarked “A strong and physically fit Muslim is better than a feeble and physically weak Muslim.” It is obvious that having healthy, strong children is impossible without adequate birthing facilities and family planning.

The significance of careful planning is a theme throughout the entire Surah Yousuf of the Holy Quran. According to Islamic teachings, we shouldn’t carry loads that are too heavy for us to bear. Unfortunately, the question of whether to have one child or six is taboo in our traditionally conservative society cannot be discussed openly. Many people mistakenly believe that this is a matter of free will; but they do not understand that a high population growth rate is a national issue of Pakistan. Many sectors of the society are negatively affected because of the individual choices of misinformed parents.

Likewise, numerous religious orators call for large families to increase their followers. Many religious scholars, who oppose family planning, employ a variety of arguments to discourage individuals from using contraception. They consider it a ploy of the West that does not want a larger Muslim population in the world. The political and military leadership is equally responsible for stoking the flames of religious extremism and fundamentalism which foster the rot mindset and discourage family planning.

While the nation is preoccupied with the issues like early elections, corruption, IMF and so on, the policymakers should be reminded that the population clock is ticking. Population explosion, indeed, has become an existential threat for Pakistan. Only watchful practices and sound policies may limit the fatal impacts of overpopulation. Better legislation and increased investments in education can cure the misinformed masses. The onus also lies on the people to understand the gravity of the issue. Are we waiting patiently for an explosion? The explosion of a population bomb will inevitably devastate us in the near future and it would be difficult to get back on the track if the train spins out of our control.

Both Iran and Bangladesh are Muslim countries, but still they have managed to control their population.  In 1971, the population of Bangladesh was around 70 million, whereas that of Pakistan was approximately 60 million. Nearly Fifty years later, Bangladesh’s population is 164.7 million, whereas Pakistan’s is over 220 million.

The government needs to take stock that this is an emergency situation and the ramifications could be catastrophic for the national security of Pakistan. Therefore, the topic of population must be elevated to the level of national discourse. The first step toward achieving a balanced and an effective human resource would be to recognise overpopulation as an imminent threat.

The social and economic strain caused by overpopulation can be alleviated, in part, by investing in women’s empowerment and, in particular, girls’ education. Pakistan as a country must recognise women as more than just a reproductive resource. Reduced birth rates will have good knock-on effects for economic development in addition to reducing pressure on limited resources like land and water.

It is also  necessary for all parties involved, notably the clergy, to actively promote birth control. Pakistan avoids addressing the subject of family planning. However, there is a simple formula for tackling the increasing population crisis in Pakistan: institute strategic, innovative, and morally upstanding family planning programmes that focus on lowering the fertility rate. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony has also an important role to play. It should encourage people to utilize contraception to limit the scourge of overpopulation. The government should launch targeted programmes to educate the public about the negative effects of overpopulation.

Muslim nations have instituted population control mechanisms to maintain the development of the country. Bangladesh provides a useful case study for the potential solutions as well as concrete strategies for population management. As Pakistan and Bangladesh have similarities in the social, religious, and economic orientations, Pakistan can learn lessons from its neighbouring country. In the 1970s, Bangladesh, like Pakistan, faced the perils of a rapidly growing population. To counter this, their policymakers prioritised overpopulation, education and prevention initiatives. Family planning and contraception were introduced in Bangladesh through media and physical campaigns to educate women on the importance of having fewer children for the betterment of the economy and their personal health. As a result of government policy, the fertility rate in Bangladesh has decreased from 7.5 percent in the 1970s to a current rate of two percent in 2022. Pakistan needs to follow suit.

While the nation is preoccupied with the issues like early elections, corruption, IMF and so on, the policymakers should be reminded that the population clock is ticking. Population explosion, indeed, has become an existential threat for Pakistan. Only watchful practices and sound policies may limit the fatal impacts of overpopulation. Better legislation and increased investments in education can cure the misinformed masses. The onus also lies on the people to understand the gravity of the issue. Are we waiting patiently for an explosion? The explosion of a population bomb will inevitably devastate us in the near future and it would be difficult to get back on the track if the train spins out of our control.

Imaz Virk
Imaz Virk
The writer is graduate of International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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