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Speakers press strong legislation, sustained political commitment to achieve sustainable population growth

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By Hamid Khan Wazir

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Senator Syed Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister of Science and Technology, has said that the government is fully committed to ensure universal access to family planning services and is working towards achieving a sustainable population growth rate in light of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) decisions that call for stronger legislation and increased investment on family planning programs in the country.

He made these remarks while speaking at the third meeting of the Parliamentary Forum on Population here on Thursday.

The meeting was organized online by the Population Council with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which was attended by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the Secretary-General of the Parliamentary Forum on Population, members of the senate, legislators from the national and provincial assemblies representing major political parties.

Addressing the participants, Mushahid Hussain highlighted the legislator’s role in prioritizing the population agenda and influencing the political leadership to achieve the targets set by CCI decisions. He said PFP is now the country’s preeminent, inclusive platform on the key issue of Population planning and Population Management, which has achieved global recognition having joined the Global Parliamentarians Alliance. Mushahid stated that in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan needs a new Human Security paradigm that incorporates health and population, climate change, education, water security and food security, and in this regard, PFP will prepare a document.  He also announced the Parliamentary Champions of Population Award that will be given annually to parliamentarians in recognition of their proactive contributions to this cause.

“The Forum is set to establish provincial chapters and will work with the Ministry of Science and technology to develop a mobile application to improve family planning services”, he said. Sharing the future plans of the Forum, Senator Mushahid said the Forum will produce evidence for parliamentarians to help them in the process of legislation.

In his remarks, MNA Riaz Fatyana, Convener of the National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs said 12 out of 17 SDGs are directly linked with population growth. For Pakistan to achieve the SDGs, especially goals of food security and poverty alleviation, it is imperative that we reduce our population growth. MNA Riaz Fatyana emphasized on achieving sustainable population growth for improving Pakistan’s ranking in the Human Development Index.

In her remarks, Lina Mousa, Country Representative, UNFPA in Pakistan reiterated UNFPA’s support to the government of Pakistan in meeting its commitments to sustainable population growth. She said parliamentarians’ role is pivotal in moving the population welfare agenda forward.

MNA Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha said greater investment in population welfare is important for Pakistan’s economic prosperity.

“Population planning and economic prosperity are interlinked. Increased investment in girls’ education and employment are pillars of attaining sustainable population growth in Pakistan. It’s high time to move forward with a pragmatic solution as national security has recently been linked with human development.”

Senator Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur stressed for women empowerment that can potentially lead to a decline in fertility and improve maternal and child health. She also emphasized on enhancing the Lady Health Workers programme by providing proper training to field workers. “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 Dr. Nausheen Hamid, Parliamentary Secretary, National Health Services Regulations and Coordination said there was a cross-party consensus on dealing with the population issue. She said the government is working to enhance fiscal space and encourages innovative projects from the provinces for the availability of contraceptive commodity and the development of awareness campaigns. The government has prepared a pre-marital counseling bill which would be presented in the Parliament soon, MNA Nausheen said.

Taking part in the discussion, Ms. Rana Ansar, MPA Sindh, referred to the important role of Radio in the dissemination of public awareness messages on family planning to achieve sustainable population growth.

Senator Walid Iqbal expressed his concern that Pakistan should work on war footing to reduce the rapid population growth rate. Effective and sustained campaigns are needed to raise awareness and implementation should be accelerated, he said.

In her concluding remarks, Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country Director, Population Council termed the meeting as a landmark event, given the diversity of participation and quality of the debate. She said it is critical for Pakistan to have a balance between population size and the country’s resources.

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