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Explosive population: asset or liability?

Huzaima Bukhari

“Unfortunately, successive governments have paid no attention towards family planning and this was the apathy of the successive governments. Rapid population growth always outstrips development gains. If Pakistan had had the same population as at independence, it would be much more prosperous now if it had experienced the same development”―Nizar Ali, Pakistan Today

For human beings, to be blessed with children is a delightful experience. The young ones generate not only pride and pleasure but also give a reason for life and inculcate a sense of responsibility in the parents besides being instrumental in perpetuation of the human race. Right from their birth to reaching adulthood, not a day goes by that these little ones continue to fascinate their parents with their multi-dimensional exploits, needless to say that these may be both in terms of vices and virtues. Without a doubt, barring a few exceptional cases, parents will go out of their way to protect and nurture their offspring who represent an extension of their own existence. Under ideal conditions, this is imaginably the most beautiful relationship that is based on unconditional love and sense of security.

The educated members of the public are usually conscious of providing a better standard of living, education and grooming to their children compared to low financial households where one can witness parents engaged in spontaneous production of many mouths to feed but no inkling about how to care for them. Consequently the former end up planning fewer births with longer intervals while the latter group ignores, or as in most of the cases, is unaware about planned parenthood. This leads to both a lopsided and tremendous growth in population which for a struggling country like ours with limited and untapped resources, can be economically very damaging.

With this in mind, there are many questions that emerge with respect to advantages and disadvantages of having an explosive population along with the fact as to why successive governments have shown a lukewarm attitude towards family planning rather than addressing this issue with a strong resolve. There is no extraordinary intelligence required to understand that fewer people have the capability to enjoy higher income while lower income and many people would have difficulty in making ends meet. Other than this, the quality of individuals can be made better with ample resources besides documenting and monitoring their activities.

A cursory look around gives a frightening picture of whatever is going on. In all major cities of our beloved country, practically at every signal there is a horde of beggars who spring towards the stopping vehicles, knocking violently on the window panes, persistently demanding alms. These cadgers are men, women and children of all ages. The thing that appears most scary is the number of children running dangerously in between traffic and those females who carry infants both, in their arms and wombs. There is no dearth of children being born in utter poverty who, one wonders, what kind of persons they would become in the absence of sound education, health and good training. If an ordinary member of the public can think on these lines, what about the so-called well-wisher politicians and ruling elite? Do they not realize the type of time bomb this nation is sitting on? Why no concrete measures are being taken to stem this perilous wave of unwanted births? Collector of gold is creating an asset but what can one call someone who is collecting sand and stones unless these are meant for some nefarious purpose.

This thought occurred when a dear friend from the neighbouring country aptly observed: “In India, the govt. wants unchecked population growth because it’s among the illiterate and they can be used as a vote bank. Democracy means people who are equal can vote. That means voting should be allowed only for educated taxpayers. And that here is just 4 percent!! The 100 billion is supported by this 4%.”

Since the day democracy took its roots in Pakistan, there has been a rush for power and desire to rule this country—stress on authority, not benevolence. The only constitutional path towards corridors of power is through elections and of course votes. A few sugar-coated bitter pills and using the exploitative card of religion or ethnicity, it is very easy to impress the illiterate but very difficult to make a mark on those who can think. The former make up the much-needed vote bank while the latter have no substantial utility for the monocratic despots, working on either selfish or foreign agendas. At least this is what has been going for the last many decades.

A political party comes in power claiming that it has the mandate of 211 million people while the voter turn-out is only a fraction of the adult franchise and think tanks all over the country marvel at this ‘popularity’. Another national turned regional party that has remained in power for many terms has the largest fan-following at the level of paupers, who for some bizarre reason consider it to be their greatest benefactor although their living condition has remain unchanged, rather gone from bad to worse, while their leaders roll in the lap of unmatched luxury. As the ignorant population far exceeds the educated, the handful of revolutionaries and those with convictions are pushed back without being able to gather sufficient votes for securing a formidable mandate to be in power.

Any reasonable ruler who really means well for this nation would first of all focus all energies on improving the caliber of this nation. According to World Bank Country Director Patchamuthu Illango: “Pakistan will have to reduce its current population growth rate to half in the next 30 years to achieve the status of a high middle-income country, as the current pace of increase in population is a barrier to becoming a prosperous nation.”

The issue is not just becoming prosperous that should cause sleepless nights for the rulers but the idea of transforming the public from blind followings to sensibility and humanity. This would, however, be at the expense of losing that precious vote bank which has consistently hurled uncouth and megalomaniacs in power for the last seventy years.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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