By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister of Science and Technology, said that Pakistan’s national security is linked with human security and human development is not possible without dealing with a high population growth rate.
He said that the government is cognizant of the impact of rapid population growth and is fully committed to make greater investments in critical areas of health and family planning, education, gainful employment, and youth empowerment.
He expressed these views while speaking as a keynote speaker at the fourth meeting of the Parliamentary Forum on Population here on Friday. Shibli Faraz is also the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Population.
The meeting was organized by the Population Council with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Islamabad and was attended by members of the senate, legislators from the national and provincial assemblies from across all major political parties.
The minister emphasized that national security must be centered around human security because only then both ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’ can be ensured and it is in this context that unsustainable population becomes a threat to national security because it deprives people of equitable opportunities for accessing health, education, nutrition, gainful employment and leading a fulfilling life.
The Forum’s meeting featured a plenary to discuss the national security dimension of sustainable population growth. Legislators both from the federal and provincial parliaments discussed ways to address population issues within political and national security ambit and focus on human security as a new priority area for national security. Legislators declared 2022 to be the parliamentary year of population planning in which the legislators across all assemblies will work for prioritizing population management as a way for achieving sustainable development.
Addressing the participants, Senator Mushahid Husain Sayed who is also the Secretary-General of Parliamentary Forum on Population highlighted the need to re-envision Pakistan’s national security in the face of the high population growth in the country. Senator Mushahid said that there is now a multi-party consensus and political ownership on the population issue. He further added prioritizing population planning through the parliament is an effective policy approach to bend the population curve.
MNA Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha said greater investment in population welfare is important for Pakistan’s economic prosperity. Stressing for women empowerment that can potentially lead to a decline in fertility and improve maternal and child health, she said, “Smart investment in girls education, female labour force participation and integration of health and population welfare departments will enhance access to population welfare services and meet high unmet family planning need in the country.”
Addressing the forum, Senator Dr. Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur emphasized on enhancing better coordination between the population welfare and health departments to ensure universal access to family planning services. “Concrete steps should be taken to include the issue in prime-time TV programs besides running campaigns on print, digital and social media,” Senator Zarqa added.
Speaking at the Forum, MNA Maryam Aurangzeb said all political parties must provide oversight on the population budget expenditure in their respective provinces and hold the government accountable. MNA Maryam stressed on legislator’s role in advocating for sustained population growth through grassroots engagement at the constituency level, targeted media campaigns, and through discourse in the assembly houses and support to enhance the budgetary allocation for population planning activities.
Elected members from the provincial assemblies of Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) shared the latest developments on the provincial population agenda. Representatives from the Punjab Assembly emphasized on continued contraceptives supply to all health and population welfare centers for undisturbed provision of family planning services.
Representatives from the Sindh assembly stressed on empowering young people through health, skilled education, and gainful employment. Sindh MPAs also discussed strengthening local government bodies and integrating life skills-based education in the curriculum.
Special Assistant for Population Welfare KP, Syed Ahmad Hussain Shah shared provincial initiatives undertaken by the KP government to address rapid population growth. He highlighted the status of implementation of the CCI recommendations on legislation, advocacy, curriculum development, contraceptives security, engagement of ulema, behaviour change, and task force meetings held in the province.
Mahmood Jan, Deputy Speaker, KP Assembly also highlighted the provincial government’s progress on functional integration of population welfare and health departments, setting up of over 300 new family welfare clinics and 14 new adolescent reproductive health centers in over 13 districts and allocation of 320million rupees in 2021-2022 under the ADB scheme to promote family planning services in the province.
Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country Director Population Council called upon the federal government to abide by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) decision of creating a Rs 10 billion population fund. Dr. Zeba highlighted legislators’ central role in enhancing fiscal space for population stabilization efforts, integration of family planning services within the health department, and by raising the issue in the media.
Bakhtior Kadirov, Acting Country Representative, UNFPA reiterated UNFPA’s support to the government of Pakistan in meeting its commitments to sustainable population growth. He said parliamentarians’ role is pivotal in moving the population welfare agenda forward.
Parliamentary Forum on Population was established in March 2020 with an aim to raise parliamentary awareness on population and development, sustain cross-party political commitment and advocate for population stabilization in the country. In 2021, the Forum became member of the Global Parliamentary Alliance for Health, Rights and Development, under the broader umbrella of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.