Speakers at a roundtable yesterday said the government needs to revisit its population and family planning policies to achieve targets regarding the country’s journey to become a middle-income country.
If not controlled and managed effectively, the burden of population might jeopardise the country’s overall progress, they said.
The Daily Star and Options Consultancy Services Ltd jointly organised the roundtable on “Realising Population Goals: Translating Strategies to Actions” at The Daily Star Centre.
Controlling population is a big issue for Bangladesh because its landmass is limited, said Hossain Zillur Rahman, chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre.
He said the country has brought down the total fertility rate (TFR) to 2.3 from 6.3 since independence. However, at the current rate, the population growth will hit 200 million by 2031.
The government has to speed up implementation of its family planning policy to bring down the TFR to the target of 2, he said.
“Getting from 2.3 to 2 may become very difficult if we do not energise our family planning programme,” he added.
He pointed on some challenges such as inconsistencies in the family planning programme, high rate of child marriage, and gender-based violence to achieve the goal.
Prof Muhammad Mainul Islam, chairman of population sciences department of Dhaka University, said the country’s existing population policy has not been updated since 2012.
Most of the targets in the policy were not achieved by 2015, which was the timeline, he said.
An institutional body headed by the prime minister is to implement the policy. However, its last meeting was held in September, 2010, he added.
Taslim Uddin Khan, chief of programme operations of Social Marketing Company, said the present family planning programme was designed some 30 years back.
It should be updated to keep up with a changing economic situation, he said, stressing strong private-public partnership to implement the targets.
Senior Secretary Shamsul Alam, member of general economic division of the Planning Commission, said population management has turned to be a challenge for the government.
Prof Bellal Hossain of DU’s population sciences department, said focusing on skills development is vital for the government to reap benefits of the demographic dividend.
Some 22 lakh new faces have entered the labour force this year, and half of them could be absorbed in the local market. Some five to seven lakh people were sent overseas but they were unskilled or semi-skilled, he said.
MA Faiz, a retired professor of medicine, said health education should be “in-built” within the education system.
Prof Syed Abul Hamid of DU’s Institute of Health Economics said family planning counselling could be introduced at marriage register’s offices to prevent unintended pregnancy.
Brig Gen (Retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, associate editor of The Daily Star; Mashrurul Islam, country director of Marie Stopes Bangladesh; Alia El Mohandes, senior family planning adviser, USAID Bangladesh; Nadira Sultana, country lead of Options Consultancy Services Ltd; and Abu Jamil Faisal, freelance consultant on reproductive health, among others, spoke at the roundtable.