KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar held on Friday to mark World Population Day urged the government to ban early marriage that they said was a major cause of rapid growth in population and high maternal mortality.
The fast-growing population was not only a massive burden on fragile national economy and resources but also a factor contributing to increase in criminal activities and other social ills, they said.
The programme organised by the Sindh population welfare department at a hotel focused on adolescent pregnancy — this year’s theme of World Population Day.
“Early marriage is like robbing a girl of her youth,” said Dr Yasmin Abbasi, a population welfare department official working in Hyderabad.
She explained that the experience of pregnancy at a very young age was physically and mentally devastating. “Girls married early often suffered from depression,” she added.
Elaborating upon the consequences of early marriage, she said it would greatly increase fertility age, besides it was a huge waste of talent as a girl who could otherwise play a constructive role in society after educating herself was now at a high risk of vulnerability.
About medical implications of adolescent pregnancy, Dr Irshad Shaikh, a senior instructor at the Regional Training Institute, Karachi, said that about 16 million adolescent girls gave birth every year across the world. Of them, she said, three million girls underwent unsafe abortion.
“Under-age pregnancy is a leading cause of maternal mortality. The chances of having stillbirths, premature birth and newborns’ death are 50pc higher in adolescent girls as compared to mothers aged between 20 and 29 years. They could suffer from high blood pressure, too,” she said, adding that adolescent girls were more likely to have low birth weight babies.
An adolescent girl, she said, suffered more at the time of delivery with an increased vulnerability for obstructed labour and postpartum haemorrhage.
While highlighting the need for antenatal and post-natal care and for having a skilled birth attendant at the time of delivery, she said: “Clean and safe delivery was the right of every mother.”
Giving a presentation on population and development, additional secretary population welfare department Syed Ashfaq Ali Shah said that world population had registered 170 per cent increase — from 2.5 billion to 7.1 billion — since 1950. The increase had mostly occurred in developing countries, he said.
Pakistan’s population, he said, had increased from 33m in 1950 to 183m in 2013. Referring to the Demographic Health Survey of Pakistan 2012-13, he said it showed a downward trend in fertility rate but a comparative analysis with data from other countries indicated that Pakistan was far behind in population indicators.
International programme coordinator of United Nations Population Funds Shrntidhar Tripathi said that Pakistan’s law on marriage (that fixes marriageable age at 16) was in contravention to the UN Convention on Child Rights that stated anyone under the age of 18 was a child.
“There is a need to align Pakistan’s law with international law and for its proper enforcement,” he said.
Sindh Minister for Population Welfare Syed Ali Mardan Shah and secretary Mohammad Saleem Raza also spoke.