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Helplines challenge population growth in Pakistan

Helplines challenge population growth in Pakistan

by Amir Murtaza

Child abandonment and baby dumping are not an exceptional phenomenon in poor and developing world, including South Asian countries. Historically, many cultures condoned such practice, due to various social and cultural reasons but more prominently poverty and gender of the baby.

Pakistani print and electronic media, has recently also flashed the news of abandoned babies who were thrown by their parents or any other family member, at rubbish dump. Needless to mention that all of them are girls.

Due to the frequent occurrence of infant baby dumping cases; the most respected and trusted charity of Pakistan, the Edhi Foundation has evolved a mechanism to save the lives of innocent babies.

The Edhi Foundation website stated that, “At most of the emergency Edhi Centres, "Jhoolas" (baby cradles) are installed where unwanted infants can be left. These abandoned babies are then taken into custody and given shelter in Edhi Homes. Although initially Edhi was subject to a lot of pressure from several quarters on initiating Jhoola service, gradually the idea caught on.”

Once again poverty and gender of the baby are more prominent factors in dumping any child by the family. Indeed, adequate financial resources are necessary to raise a child especially in countries where state sponsored welfare provisions, especially health and education, are conspicuously missing.

Pakistan is among the group of countries having highest population growth rate in the world. It is estimated that our present growth rate is around 2.03% and each family has an average 3.4 children.

Demographers have already estimated that if our population continues to grow with the same rate, it could be double in the next 34 years. A research report pointed out that, “Pakistan was 33 million in 1950 and its rank was 14th in the world. Today, it has reached around 180.71 million making Pakistan the 6th most populous country of the world whereas in terms of land area, it is 34th, and shares only 0.6% of the world area.”

Pakistan is a country with high fertility and low Contraceptive Prevalence Rate. The present Contraceptive Prevalence Rate is even less than 30%, which is quite low by any standard.

The adverse impact of high population growth rate has become quite evident; increasing poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, low quality food, inadequate health and education facilities and environmental degradation are few of them. It is indeed a high time to plan and check the influx of high population growth rate, through new approaches.

Some experts believe that introduction of population specific legislation, such as one-child-one-family or increase in age of marriage, could garner positive results in controlling the high population growth rate. However, country’s strong religious identity and socio-cultural settings may not allow any such move.

Therefore, new approaches are required to improve sexual and reproductive health service delivery, with regular contact between service provider and receiver.

There is no denying that many couples having desire of fewer children; however, in many cases, they have no or limited access to contraceptives or family planning advice.

Our social norms and traditions, quite often, restrict the individuals or couples to visit the family planning centers. “I have four children but still I find it difficult to visit the family planning center, located in my area. Therefore, I always prefer to visit any gynecologist having training and experience in family planning,” a women visitor informed at the clinic of a gynecologist in a middle income area of Karachi.

Pregnancy and reproductive health have remained a very private matter in all traditional societies, such as ours. In general people discuss such matters very privately. Therefore, telephone counseling and referral mechanism could help those seeking advice on related issues.

Over the period of time, we have seen the establishment of some very effective helplines on sexual and reproductive health in different parts of the country. The main aim of these helplines is to provide professional counseling to the service seeker and then guide him/her to adequate and available service provider, for long-term help.

Research papers and studies comparing the efficacy of telephone counseling to in-person counseling inform that more than half of clients who had experienced both in-person and phone counseling preferred phone counseling.

Many people, both male and female, prefer to discuss personal matters, like sexual and reproductive health, without disclosing their identity. And, therefore, they feel more comfortable to talk on crises intervention telephone helplines.

I have more than five year experience in working with a crises intervention helpline for women and children. During my work, I found that a strong partnership with service providers is necessary for the success of any helpline. The response of service providers plays an important role in providing services to the clients.

A high population growth rate is our daily reality. For the economic and social development of our beloved country we have to plan and device strategies to minimize high population growth rate. It is a serious business and essentially required participation from all sections of the society, including government, NGOs, corporate sector, media and academia. This is also the only way to stop the phenomenon of child abandonment and baby dumping in this country.


Amir Murtaza is the Executive Director of Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO) and a senior researcher, analyst and writer on social development issues, especially pertaining to women, youth and children.

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