A Closer Look: Pakistan, Population and Development

In a perfect follow-up to my post from last week about the demographic dividend and population control policies, the Federal Minister for Population Welfare in Pakistan, Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain, has said that national development is linked to the controlled population in the country.

In a response to the "country's high birth rate" the Minister Hussain wants to create awareness about family planning among the "uneducated segments of the society." That is all well and good—education about sexual health and family planning is certainly critical in many nations in South Asia—yet here again we see the burden for national development placed on the backs of poor people. All too often these people are poor women and policy aims to regulate their reproductive lives based on certain beliefs about their fertility, rather than to interrogate any other practices and policies affecting sustainable development.

The Minister said that the birth rate has decreased immensely compared to previous years, as the rate lessened from 2.3% to 1.86%. Given this decline, the government is keen on achieving their target of 1.3%. To this end, Pakistan will provide basic family planning on railway stations—a model adopted from similar policies in several European nations. Also, in related news, mosques in Pakistan will distribute family planning information, based on a Bangladeshi model.

Now here's the thing: on many levels, this is great. Social programs are often most successful when they are integrated into the cultural fabric of society. We here in the US could take some inspiration from programs that aim to incorporate our real social needs into cultural and religious life. There's no denying that education programs for society's most disenfranchised are crucial to achieving reproductive justice. Yet, as I said, when the success of development programs and economic goals is linked to controlling people's reproduction (limiting it OR encouraging it) then I think we should look a little more closely at the motivation and methods of such policies.

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