Myth of population control.

It is the dawn of 2023. Ahead of us are several national problems that continue to be overlooked. The solutions are obvious, but the intent to act is missing. Critical areas face stagnation, with population and education on top of the list. Both sectors are interrelated but their current state is at the heart of everything that plagues Pakistan's progress. The last 10 years show little change in our educational trends. Universal primary enrolment, especially for girls, is lagging. And fertility rates have not changed for a decade.

But while state responsibility for education is at least widely discussed, the public discourse on our annual population growth rate of two per cent frequently disappoints. Our demographics are well known to those who matter. So, don't they see the linkages between human and other development? Instead, we hear the frequent lame excuses - 'Population is a provincial subject', 'population control is against our religion, 'it is a politically inexpedient topic', etc.

This impasse is dominated by an outdated but continuing concept of population control. 'Population control' is a term full of fallacies; it is decidedly not the way the state should tackle demographic challenges. A rights-based approach must be on top of the agenda. Whether it is a question of granting political rights or citizens' rights to services, the philosophy and orientation of the state must change.

Fifty years ago, Mahmood Mamdani wrote a revolutionary book, The Myth of Population Control, on the impact of Indira Gandhi's Emergency on a village in Indian Punjab. India's population control policy during the Emergency failed miserably. It caused Mrs Gandhi's downfall and led to an extreme distrust of state policies. Only a few miles away, we would not expect anything different to happen in Pakistan if the state adopted this policy of population control. 'Population control', as it stands, has already been regarded as something negative, and rejected by most people as a way of taking away our values.

The new population narrative asks that the state should not be the controller but the enabler.

The China and India examples of draconian population control policies cannot be followed. Instead, we must emulate states that have successfully reduced their population growth rate. Plenty of examples abound in the region. Iran made contraceptives available to its public health services, Bangladesh invested in community outreach services and the empowerment...

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