The National Conference on ‘Resilient Pakistan: Calibrating Population and Resources’
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
Regulations and Coordination (“Ministry of Health”) and the United Nations Population
(“UNFPA”). The aim of the Conference is to assess the progress made by the Federal
Provincial Governments in meeting the objectives set by the Council of Common Interests
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
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.
The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (“LJCP”) in collaboration with the
National Health Services Regulations and Coordination (“Ministry of Health”) and the
Nations Population Fund (“UNFPA”) organized the National Conference on ‘Resilient
Calibrating Population and Resources’ on 14th and 15th of July 2023. The Conference was held
with the aim of gauging the implementation of population management policies by the Federal
and Provincial Governments in light of the recommendations made after the Human Rights Case
No. 17599/2018. Policymakers and experts convened over the two days in the Supreme Court of
Pakistan to outline the hindrances faced in the implementation of such policies and to
propose to ensure sustainable population growth in Pakistan.
The second day of the Conference saw a substantial turnout of judges from the superior and district judiciary, renowned academics, foreign dignitaries, experts and members of the national and international legal community. The day commenced with the third session of the Conference titled “Demographic Trends and Implications for Pakistan”. The session was co-chaired by Supreme Court Justice Mr. Amin-ud-Din Khan and Dr. Sania Nishtar. The speakers for the session shared detailed data on demographic trends and the ground realities of their impact on the general population – particularly women and children. The panelists concluded that Pakistan’s youthful population presented a unique opportunity for socio-economic development, which required a cross-sectoral approach to fully harness the potential.
The second session of the day, titled “Pathways to Economic and Social Cohesion”, focused on micro and macro level changes for a sustainable future and started with a passionate speech by the chair, Supreme Court Justice Mr. Muhammad Ali Mazhar who emphasized the need to engage and invest in youth to secure a better future for Pakistan. The panelists proposed ways to create an enabling environment for the youth, which would result in a demographic dividend and sustainable development for all, especially in light of newer challenges such as urban migration and climate change. Mr. Shehzad Roy (Goodwill Ambassador, Population Planning), while speaking on the importance of family planning advocacy stated that, to create an impact, it is necessary to change the mindset of people. He shared that he is working on an initiative whereby couples would be required to take a ‘reproductive health course’ as a prerequisite for the registration of their nikkah with NADRA. Mr. Roy concluded the session with a performance of his song, ‘Socho Phir Se Zara’, which is sung from the perspective of an unborn child and advocated for family planning.
The final session of the day chaired by Supreme Court Justice Ms. Ayesha A. Malik was titled “Women Rights, Empowerment and Equality”. It began with a video message from Ms. Diene Keita (Assistant Secretary-General, UN, and Dy. Executive Director (Program), UNFPA) who affirmed UNFPA’s continued commitment to helping Pakistan reach its full potential and stated that the solution might be embedded in three aspects i.e. investment in capacity and human capital and access to opportunity. Ms. Khawar Mumtaz, women’s rights activist and former Chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Women, said that there are three important components of women’s empowerment: education, employment, and their agency. Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala (Representative and Head of Mission in Pakistan, World Health Organization) outlined the specific healthcare issues that women encounter in Pakistan which required immediate attention including those related to maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and stated that “women’s rights are not an aspiration but fundamental necessity to the progress of a country.” Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali (President, SZABIST) discussed how socially constructed norms disempower girls from a young age, leading to unequal rights and discriminatory treatment that impact them as adults. Ms. Fouzia Viqar (Federal Ombudsperson against Women Harassment) further stressed the need to have women in leadership roles and include them in decision making processes. Achieving this requires the creation of enabling workplaces which have basic facilities such as bathrooms and daycare centers.
The overarching sentiment shared by the speakers over the course of the Conference was the need for a holistic and multisectoral approach to address not only the problem of rapid population growth, but its current and future implications. Dr. Amjad Saqib (CEO, Akhuwat Foundation) further underscored the need to rid the country of the elite capture and stressed the importance of social protection as a collective responsibility. Throughout the Conference, various panelists also recommended that the focus needs to be on investing in the capacity of women and utilizing their potential as accelerators of economic growth. Justice Ayesha emphasized that “population management is not about controlling individuals but enabling their enjoyment of basic fundamental rights” and further that “gender equality is not just about fairness, it is a facilitator for sustainable development because it unlocks the potential of half the population.” Dr. Asif Ifthikar (Fellow Al-Mawrid Foundation for Islamic Research; Faculty Member, LUMS), while presenting the religious perspective on sustainable growth, noted that “when we give veneration to past traditions, equating them to the Quran and Sunnah we limit the possibility of bringing about change” and instead urged that open dialogue and discourse should be adopted to educate the masses and eliminate misconceptions regarding family planning in Islam. Dr Qibla Ayaz, (Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology) in his video message stated that balance and organization are the best way to deal with population and that family planning results in a better quality of life for children. Justice Ayesha remarked that while “the road ahead is long and challenging” it is still “achievable, if we invest in our women.”
Ms. Riffat Inam Butt, Secretary LJCP concluded the Conference with a vote of thanks, and was followed by Dr. Sabina Durrani (DG, PPW, Ministry of Health) summarized the key outcomes of the Conference and presented a set of recommendations that garnered the endorsement of the Ministry of Health, reflecting the collective insights and actionable strategies derived from the discussions.
In his closing remarks, Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Umar Ata Bandial, expressed his appreciation for the valuable participation and presence of esteemed Conference members and acknowledged the organizing committee for creating such a meaningful platform. He emphasized the importance of hope and encouragement for the future, noting that the Conference has opened a window of opportunity for the Government to enact laws and policies promoting population management for the betterment of society and public interest. The event concluded with the presentation of plaques to the speakers and certificates to the organizing members, marking a significant milestone.