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National Conference, 2023
Resilient Pakistan: Calibrating Population & Resources
Day 1

The National Conference on ‘Resilient Pakistan: Calibrating Population and Resources’ commenced on 14th July 2023 at the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It was organized by the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (“LJCP”) in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination (“Ministry of Health”) and the United Nations Population Fund (“UNFPA”). The aim of the Conference is to assess the progress made by the Federal and Provincial Governments in meeting the objectives set by the Council of Common Interests (“CCI”) and the Supreme Court of Pakistan as a result of Human Rights Case No. 17599/2018. The Conference also provides a platform to distinguished speakers from Pakistan and abroad to shed light on the obstacles faced in forging a path towards sustainable population growth and to provide recommendations for a way forward.

The Conference was attended by esteemed members of the judiciary, including the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; the Chief Justice and Judges of the Federal Shariat Court; Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court Gilgit-Baltistan; the Chief Justice of Azad Jammu and Kashmir; the Chief Justices and Judges of the High Courts; and judges of the District Judiciary. In addition, the Attorney General of Pakistan and dignitaries of various countries along with numerous national and international lawyers, academics, and experts on the subject were present at the Conference.

Barrister Maryam Khan and Mr. Saad Rasool, the presenters for the Conference, welcomed the guests and provided a overview of the proceedings of Human Rights Case No. 17599/2018. Ms. Riffat Inam Butt, the Secretary of the LJCP emphasized the significance of the Conference, underscoring its relevance to Pakistan's international commitments. While addressing the progress made in the five years following the formation of the Federal and Provincial task forces, Mr. Iftikhar Shallwani, Secretary Ministry of Health acknowledged that although advancements had been made by the Federal Government, the progress was deficient and an integrated federal and provincial approach was necessary for the effective implementation of population and resource management policies. Dr. Luay Shabaneh, Country Representative, UNFPA on the other hand highlighted the change in the global narrative surrounding population from one of ‘control’ to one predicated on human rights and the freedom to make informed choices (right to qualitative right) aptly observed that “women are a missed opportunity in Pakistan, it is very important to invest in their capacity”. A video prepared by UNFPA summarizing the prevailing population trends in Pakistan, its adverse effects on women and children, and the action plan for the future was also aired.

In his keynote address, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Umar Ata Bandial, emphasized the importance of enforcing the four basic rights of the people: the right to life, the right to dignity, freedom of choice, and equality of opportunity. He stressed that in nurturing productive populations it was essential to supplement the State’s efforts with contributions from the private sector and the general populace - deeming this to be a collective responsibility.

The first session, titled ‘ Review of the Progress after the Human Rights Case No.17599/2018 ’ was chaired by Supreme Court Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, President, SZABIST. The panel comprised of Dr. Sabina Imran Durrani, Director General, Population Program Wing, Ministry of Health and representatives of the Provincial and Federal Governments (including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir) and a member of the civil society. Engaging the audience with comprehensive statistics and data, the speakers offered insightful assessments of the advancements achieved in each province, highlighted prevailing challenges, and proposed valuable recommendations to forge a way forward.

The second session was titled ‘The International Perspective on Population Growth’. It was chaired by Supreme Court Justice Yahya Afridi and Dr. Luay Shabaneh, Country Representative, UNFPA. The session highlighted the importance of normalizing conversations on population management, particularly in Muslim countries. In this regard Dr. Samukeliso Dube observed that “political leaders and the common man should be comfortable in using the term family planning…”. Dr. Monica Kerrigan also observed that we must strive to “normalize discussions about family planning, encouraging open dialogue and awareness.” The speakers further emphasized the crucial role of empowering women through initiatives such as education, universal health coverage, and meaningful participation in the decision-making processes. By addressing these key aspects, the session aimed to foster a more inclusive and informed approach to population management.

The two sessions highlighted the crucial importance of engaging different segments of society in the conversation on family planning. Dr. Nyla Altaf, Additional Secretary (Technical), Population Welfare Department, Punjab emphasized the need to involve the ulema in support of the family planning programme, for which purpose the Punjab Government has also established training institutes for religious scholars. The need to educate the youth, which forms over 60% of the population, was greatly stressed throughout the Conference. Dr. Syed Azizur Rab, CEO, Greenstar Social Marketing stated that children in today’s age “spoke a different language” and the use of social media platforms was critical in inculcating them with concepts of sustainable development. Professor Muhammad Jalal Abbasi of Tehran University stated that Iran’s commitment to girls education significantly bolstered the success of its family planning programme.

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed stated that countries like Turkey, Iran, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have successfully reduced fertility rates and achieved population planning goals through legislation and parliamentary support, innovation, state involvement, promotion of specific contraceptive methods, and the pursuit of female education goals. Dr. Sabina Imran Durrani shed light on the dearth of funds, the primary impediment to progression, and revealed that, of the Rs.10 billion assigned to the non-lapsable fund for population, Rs.8 billion were yet to be released by the CCI. In relation to the allocation of resources Dr. Syed Azizur Rab highlighted the underutilisation of public-private partnership in achieving set goals for family planning. He emphasized that the “private sector can become the extended arm of the government” and help shoulder the financial burden on the State.

In conclusion, the discussions outlined the successful strategies employed by certain countries in reducing rapid population growth, while also underscoring the need for adequate funding, efficient resource allocation, and leveraging public-private partnerships to ensure progress in family planning initiatives.