Pakistan offers free schooling to one-child families

Posted: 3 August 2006

Pakistani families that have only one child will have that child's education paid for by the government under a novel plan to try and bring down the country's rapid population growth, Reuters reports.

With 156 million people, according to the latest government figures, Pakistan is the world's sixth most populous country, and it's getting bigger by nearly 2 per cent a year.

That growth rate is slower than it was a few decades ago but it's still too fast, according to the government that has made fighting widespread poverty a priority, and sees population growth as a major complication for that effort.

Minister for Population Welfare Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain says he is sure the plan to offer children of one-child families free education until the age of 18 will have an impact.

"Definitely, incentives will increase the acceptance of family planning," Hussain told Reuters.

"People will be aware that if they have small families, they will get a lot of benefits, their kids will have a better chance of education," he said.

The plan, the first of its kind in Pakistan, is being launched with a survey which started on July 1 to determine the number of one-child families, he said. At the moment, education is free in state schools only up to the primary level.

Pakistan has had a family planning programme to arrest population growth since soon after the country's formation in 1947 but it has had limited success.

The population has shot up from 34 million in 1951 and every day 11,500 babies are born.

But some progress is being made.

Hussain's ministry says the use of contraception among women between the ages of 15 and 49 has increased from 9 per cent in 1985 to 36 per cent in 2005.

Suspicion

Pakistan has seen good economic growth in recent years but a quarter of the people are still living below the poverty line.

A growing population puts ever-bigger demands on finite resources, said Donya Aziz, parliamentary secretary for population.

"We have only a certain amount of money available for all the citizens of Pakistan, for all the development," Aziz said. "When the population is too large all the money gets diluted."

Another obstacle is the suspicion with which conservative Muslims view population programmes, but efforts are being made to win over clerics, Hussain and Aziz said.

"People say some bizarre things - that family planning is something the West wants to control the number of Muslims in the world," Aziz said.

"If they really wanted Muslims to be in bad shape they would let us continue to have so many children and we would never be able to develop," she said.

But suspicion is still widespread.

Liaquat Baloch, leader of an opposition Islamist alliance in parliament, said those promoting family planning were only trying to curry favour with the West and get funds.

Source: populationmedia.org July 30/Reuters June 21, 2006