Population policy: Biggest challenge is to develop skilled human resources
There appears to be a sense of complacency among government policymakers, who often assert that Bangladesh is currently reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend. Some even go so far as to assert that the surplus population is not a burden, but rather a boon. Regrettably, they seem to overlook a significant disparity between their rhetoric and the prevailing reality.
While it is true that a country experiences a demographic dividend when its working-age population surpasses the non-working-age populace, this circumstance is not solely a numbers game. It hinges upon how adeptly and skillfully this population has been cultivated. For Bangladesh to capitalize on its advantageous demographic position, it's imperative not only to possess a favorable population distribution but also to ensure the provision of essential social safety, including access to education and healthcare to create opportunities to develop them as healthy and efficient citizens.
Professor Mohammad Mainul Islam of Population Science Department of Dhaka University has rightly said that the goal of development is to improve the quality of life of all people. It is important to shift the attention from the number to quality.
The landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, from 12-14 November, 2019, emphasised the achievement of three zero goals—zero maternal mortality, zero sexual and gender-based violence, and the elimination of harmful practices. We failed to meet any of these three targets. Rather, many potential lives are lost due to child marriage. There is no guarantee that we will be able to achieve those by 2030. So how can demographic dividends be expected?
The initial population policy in Bangladesh was formulated in 1976, with subsequent revisions occurring in 1994 and 2012. All three policies underscored the importance of population control. The latest initiative to update the population policy now places greater emphasis on population management rather than strict control. However, experts believe that maintaining effective family planning policies remains crucial until a replacement fertility rate is achieved.
If the concept of management entails ensuring every citizen's access to education, healthcare, and dign employment opportunities, then it certainly warrants support. To facilitate the implementation of the population policy, the National Population Council was established as an institutional framework. This council holds the authority to introduce modifications to the population policy, providing directives where necessary. Regrettably, after 2010, the council did not hold any further meetings.
In the past, population control campaigns prominently promoted the slogan "Two children are enough, regardless of gender." Subsequently, the approach shifted to advocating "No more than two children, and one is preferable." Despite facing challenges in various socio-economic domains, women have taken a lead in adopting birth control methods. According to a report by Prothom Alo, the rate of modern birth control method adoption among couples stands at 55 percent, whereas only 9 percent of men opt for it.
We firmly believe that our focus should be directed towards both effective management and ensuring replacement-level fertility rates. In situations where meeting the minimal basic requirements of the existing population proves difficult, further population growth is more likely to yield adverse outcomes rather than a demographic dividend. Therefore, in addition to fostering skilled and proficient manpower, it's imperative to coordinate the rate of population growth with management capabilities. Education, health care and social safety of every citizen should be ensured.