ISLAMABAD  -   The Task Force constituted by the Supreme Court on Tuesday recommended that the pre-marital counselling on family planning should be mandatory for Nikah registration.

In the suo motu regarding alarming high population growth, the Task Force submitted its 7-page recommendations through Additional Attorney General Syed Nayyar Rizvi in the top court.

On September 4, the CJ constituted a Task Force to formulate mechanism to curb population growth in the country.

The Task Force recommended for introduction of Early Child Marriage Restraint Act in federal and provincial governments. “Pre-marital counselling on family planning should be mandatory for Nikkah registration; LHWs or appropriate service providers to provide the requisite counselling,” it stated. It is recommended to establish National and Provincial Task Forces for steering, providing oversight and taking critical decisions to reduce population growth, lower fertility rate and increase Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR).

It is further recommended to mandate all public health facilities and private practitioners to deliver family planning services and counselling.

“Federal government to create a five-year non-lapsable Special Fund for reducing Population Growth Rate with annual allocation of Rs10 billion. The Fund shall be set up exclusively from federal resources without any cut from provincial funds. The Fund will meet, for 5 years, 50 per cent amount of additional allocations made by the provinces for procurement of contraceptive commodities over and above the budget provisions of FY 2018-19 in the respective head. The Fund will meet, for 5 years, 50 per cent cost of increase in LHWs for 100% coverage for doorstep services in rural and urban areas,” it stated.

According to the report of Task Force, Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with a population of 207.8 million growing at an intercensal growth rate of 2.4 per cent per annum between 1998-2017.

“At this rate Pakistan’s population will double in the next 30 years, compared with an average doubling time of 60 years for other South Asian countries. The population of the country is projected to increase to 285 million by 2030,” the report stated.

“Such a high level of population growth is unsustainable and has already eaten into the modest gains made in terms of socio-economic development. It will exacerbate food security and threaten the country’s sustainable development prospects.”

Regarding legislation, it is recommended that Family Planning & Reproductive Health (FP&RH) Rights Bill should be introduced which will ensure mandatory services by all general health care facilities in public and private sector.  “Right to promotive and primary health care for mother and child be made mandatory as the right to education given in Article 25-A of the Constitution.”

It is further recommended that a national narrative to be developed in consultation with provinces and other stakeholders to create a sense of urgency and necessity of reducing population growth rate and achieving socio-economic wellbeing for all.

“Mass movement leading to a call of action to be launched involving political leaders, corporate sector, academia, judiciary, executive, ulema, media, intelligentsia, civil society and youth. Behavioural Change Communication campaign to highlight the roles and responsibilities of men in family planning.”

The recommendations are also made for Incentivizing Local Production of Contraceptives.  “Pooled Procurement model to be adopted by the Federal and Provincial Governments (subject to their consent) to garner the benefits of economy of scale. Supply Chain Management System to be strengthened to ensure availability of all contraceptives at Service Delivery Points.”

The latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2017-2018) confirms that there has been little change in fertility levels since 2005 with women bearing an average of 3.6 children over their reproductive life span.

Rather than showing progress, the critical driver of fertility, modern Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (mCPR) has gone down to 25 per cent from 26 per cent reported in the previous PDHS in 2012-2013.

International comparisons indicate that Pakistan fares in the lowest group for human development, ranking 150 among 189 countries in the latest Human development index rankings. It also faces gender inequality with female adult above 15 years of age literacy remaining low at 45 per cent (2015) and female participation in the labor forces is still low at 25 per cent.

The unmet need for Family Planning Services remains high at 17 per cent indicating that millions of married couples are unable to receive adequate access to information and services to have the number of children and the spacing they desire.

Nearly, one-fourth of the country’s population continues to live below the national poverty line (2015-2016) with the absolute numbers of poor increasing due to population growth rates.

“High maternal mortality and child mortality rates continue to pose challenges for the population and health sector. There are insufficient tangible programmatic interventions that address the challenges of reducing high Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and reducing wome n from resorting to induced abortions.”

SYED SABEEHUL HUSSNAIN