How many of us have seen children with thinning, rough hair with orange hue? They are the children who are trying to clean our car’s windshield at every other signal. It is the boy who is working at the tyre shop in our local gas station. It could be our maid’s child playing in our garage and eating dirt while she is attending to us and our children. These pale, skinny, listless children are all around us – everywhere –they are the malnourished children of our world.
Pakistan is among thefive top ranked countries that have more than half of the world’s malnourished children, says a report publishedby ‘Save the Children’. One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In a country like Pakistan, the figure is much higher. Stunted growth means their body and brain has failed to develop properly because of malnutrition. About 43.6 per cent children in the country are officially reported stunted and if no concerted action is taken, Pakistan will have the highest percentage of stunted children population in the next 15 years. Apart from coming up with national level plans to deal with this acute shortage and price hike of necessary food items, the most obvious way of dealing with this issue is to have less number of children, yet we keep procreating at an alarming rate with absolutely no planning, hoping that God will provide for them – a fatalistic approach that has harmed the country to no end.
The world malnutrition and hunger has put the philosophical approach that every child brings its own food to rest; however, it is still considered a valid excuse for having large families. What parents do not realize is that their malnourished children are not only disadvantaged as children, they will remain so as adults and will earn at least 20% less on average than those who have had a healthy childhood.
The country’s population is estimated to go up to 300 million by 2030, and our water resources – necessary for food growth, agricultural, dairy and poultry farming, hygiene and sanitation – are dwindling fast. Pakistan has slid from being a water affluent country to a water scarce country; imagine how bad the situation would be with 120 million additional mouths to feed and even less food & water than we have right now.
22 per cent of the people in Pakistan can never afford to buy staple foods such as meat, milk, or vegetables for their families every week, yet they keep on adding to their families. The policy makers and decision makers have to take notice now and take measures to realistically deal with this issue. Poverty reduction measures like Benazir Income Support Programe alone, can never tackle the population time bomb, it has to be paired with stringent population control actions.
In a country where advocating family planning is still a taboo, we need to address this issue as an emergency. There are sections in the society that take pride in the fact that we will become the most populous Muslim nation soon. What is the point in taking pride in producing world’s biggest group of hungry, malnourished children and adults with limited abilities to fend for themselves and lacking prospects for future growth.
We need to create a society where small families are socially desirable and it can be created through deliberate social engineering by the state and clergy. It has already happened in Iran and Bangladesh, and it can happen in Pakistan as well.
First published in The Express Tribune
PS: Those who accuse me of being anti PTI should know that this piece was neutral, discussed a clear and present danger and never once mentioned ‘he who cannot be named’ yet one of the most dismissive comment I received on the newspaper website was by a PTI troll who prefers to hide behind the alias of Frank Observer. This is what he wrote:
I’m sick of the liberals, wealthy and the privileged of this country lecturing the underprivileged on how to lead their life. Just because you had the privilege of western education does not mean that you can treat the ordinary working class of this country as ignorant and brainless individuals who need to be told by the upper class like yourself how many children they should have. I believe one should have as many children as one likes, and it should have no bearing on inequality, poverty and injustice in society. I for one don’t need your expert advise in my personal life. So thanks but no thanks. Also, you are distorting attention from the real root causes of inequality and poverty, which are embedded corruption in society, dishonest, selfish, and incompetent politicians and people like yourself who instead of lecturing the politicians are turning this country into a nanny state by dictating our personal lifes to the extent that we should now listen to you for family planning. Guys, bring down the statusquo in the next general election and vote for Imran Khan.
I rest my case