The World Population Day has apparently lost much of its appeal and significance not only to countries like Bangladesh but also to the international bodies dealing with population issues. Why? The impression is that Malthusian population growth could be reined in and there is nothing more to be done to check it.
If the day passes with little or no fervour demonstrated over its celebration on account of the pandemic, no one can be blamed. But for years, the world community seems to be far less worried than it was about baby boom before the new millennium. Is it because of the decline in the population sizes in developed and industrial countries or because the world produces more foods than its population can consume?
The United Nations and multilateral institutions have rather become enthusiastic about pursuing a sustainable development goal (SDG) for the developing countries. Many of these nations, including Bangladesh, have made tremendous progress over the decades and they can afford investment in raising the living standard of their peoples. Per capita income in such countries has shot up -in some cases three or four times the amount before the year 2000.
Amid the furore, the policymakers miss the wood for the trees. First, population explosion may not be as exponential as it was before but it still is a major concern in countries like Bangladesh. Second, quality of life at lower strata of society cannot be raised unless the chasm of socio-economic disparities is bridged.
The fact is, poor segments still value births of more children -particularly the male of them -- in their families because that would ensure more working hands. Unaware that addition of more mouths also requires more foods and more importantly they cannot be educated enough to take to more gainful occupations than their parents', they hardly opt for keeping family size small. In case of more girl child, their misery only compounds with greater compulsion for early marriage. Chances of surrendering teenage girls to domestic slavery in cities and towns or falling in the trap of human traffickers cannot be ruled out.
That the government's programme for feeding the vulnerable may help the poor and the extreme poor to keep their body and soul together but it is not enough to pull them out of the vicious cycle. Sons and daughters of the people languishing at the bottom rank are invariably fated to suffer the same miseries.
There lies the missing link of human development. This points to the fact that the need for population control in the majority of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America has not ceased. In fact, there is a greater need to address the issue with an open mind. The population control programme has gone haywire with the shrinking of international funds for the purpose.
The programme needs to be integrated with the food security network along with child education. A large number of people move between city slums and villages and a digital database of such people can be of immense help in checking a host of ills. In slums, polygamy is rampant where in most cases women are abandoned by their husbands who flee without leaving any address to be tracked down. Usually such women with children find themselves in dire straits. This is one reason why such children either turn out to be miserable vagabonds or petty criminals.
Access to family planning accessories such as contraceptives for such women like their kinds in villages is not guaranteed. Had the family planning workers made their door-to-door rounds as they did before to motivate such women about the need for family planning along with providing them those required materials, unwanted pregnancies could be avoided. This corona epidemic has already made the situation critical. As many as 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries will be unable to use modern contraceptives if the pandemic-induced lockdown continues for six months. Even without the pandemic, the problem of dealing with unwanted pregnancies became acute in many countries like Bangladesh.
To raise the quality of life, there is definitely a need for refocusing on limiting the average birth rate among women at the bottom rank. This in turn will help reduce socio-economic disparities.