Bangladesh had shown significant success in population control, particularly in comparison to the other populous neighbours, India and Pakistan. When Bangladesh won independence in 1971, its population was 75 million and Pakistan’s population was 65 million. Now 48 years on, Bangladesh’s population is 175 million and Pakistan’s is 207 million. India’s population growth is also higher than that of Bangladesh.
In the newly independent Bangladesh, women between the ages of 15-49 would give birth to over six children on average. Presently this is down to 2.3, according to demographic surveys. Back then, 8 per cent of the married couple adopted modern methods of birth control. That percentage is now 63 per cent.
However, over the last few years the government policymakers have been under the delusion that the country can reap benefits from the extended demographics and so have been lax about the population programmes. This has been a serious error and has put immense pressure on land, food, education and health.
Every year 2.2 million youth enter the job market but not even one third of them can be given appropriate employment. So basking in the youth demographic is very wrong.
In 2004, the BNP government took up the slogan, two children are enough, and even better if it’s one. The government changed and the Awami League government reinforced that slogan. But last year the family planning directorate slipped back to the slogan of the eighties, saying that no matter whether they are girls or boys, two children are enough. This has had an impact on the population policy too. Maternal mortality remains as it was as there are a higher number of mothers within the 15-19 age bracket.
The national population policy spoke about reaching replacement level fertility by 2015 with an increase of birth control usage to 72 per cent. That has not been reached so far. The government’s policy and action do not tally when it comes to population control. The biggest weakness of the government’s family planning policy is that the families that need family planning the most are the ones deprived from the required facilities.
The population density of Bangladesh is 1,265 persons per sq km. In China this is 150, in India 450. Every year around 3.2 million more people are being added to the population. Other than in city states, nowhere in the world does any country have so many people living in such a small space. The policymakers point out that China and Japan have moved away from their one-child policy. But they should realise that does not apply to Bangladesh where the population density is so high.
The government’s policy and slogan regarding population are both wrong. Bangladesh dreams of becoming a mid-income country, but 40 million people still live below the poverty line here. The number of ultra poor is also near 20 million. They are deprived of the basic essentials. The government should do away with its faulty policies and slogan, and take up realistic measures to address the population problem.