IN an increasingly resource-scarce world, Pakistan is a particularly populous country. ‘Youth bulge’ is the term used to describe a situation where the single largest section of society — a hundred million, or 65 per cent of the overall population — comprises people under the age of 25. The bland term masks a demographic disaster in the making, given that according to UN figures, 32 per cent of the people aged between 15 and 29 years are illiterate, less than six per cent have acquired technical skills and only 2.5 per cent have received on-the-job training. In a country where the state seems to have neither the will nor the capacity to invest in educational and other infrastructure, the workforce is increasing at the rate of three per cent annually — which the UNDP refers to as “alarming”. What we desperately need, if there is to be any chance at all of a brighter future, is a sharp decline in the rate at which the population is growing. The problem is not a general lack of awareness about the importance of family planning. According to some estimates, some 25 per cent of married women in the country would opt for family planning but are unable to access relevant resources for one reason or another.
In this situation, then, it is welcome news that the Aman Foundation, a local not-for-profit trust, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have signed a five-year framework agreement under which $5m will be invested by each party in addressing the gaps in reproductive health and family planning services in the country. The reiteration of the importance of family planning has been at the top of the list of the country’s priorities for most of its existence, yet while the population growth rate has seen a slowdown, it is still at unsustainably high levels. The non-governmental sector has played an important role in this regard, and the state needs to match its efforts. While partnerships such as that signed in Dubai between the Aman and Gates’ foundations can play a key role, the state must not be lulled into reneging on its own responsibilities.