The main aim of this meeting (a regional consultation with parliamentarians and policy makers) is to involve parliamentarians and policy makers to understand the importance of population data and use them in socio-economic development planning and programs. This consultative meeting will also provide an opportunity to share the common issues on Family Planning and Reproductive Health and find out ways and means to overcome the problems that we are facing in South Asia.
This meeting is very appropriate and timely in SAARC region since the fertility transition is under way in these countries. In most of the SAARC countries, the demographic situation is facing with young age
structure in their population composition. This is simply because fertility was very high in the recent past and started to decline lately. While discussing family planning and reproductive health issues, we have to address the need and demand of these young population.
Although the demographic situations of the SAARC countries are improving, such as both fertility and mortality rates are in decreasing trend, they are not as expected compared to economic development of the country. As we all know, family planning use directly or indirectly depends on various socio-economic and cultural factors of the country and it takes a long time to change these values and norms. It is also noticed that cultural aspects of the society are changing. In a situation of weakening cultural props there is a decline in the value of children in religious and social obligations.
Moreover, increasing educational facility and schooling have discouraged couples to have many children indicating that the traditional values attached to children are weakening in South Asia.As a result, acceptance of the small family size norm is gaining ground as more people aspire for a better life. This declining fertility in South Asia suggests that the social transformation taking place in the region is not only impinging upon the values of children but also the values attached to the gender of children.
Moreover, the changing socio-cultural situation has also altered the family relationships and brought about pressure on families to have a smaller number of children. The fertility decline in the region is a result of change in family relationships due to socio-cultural change rather than significant economic change.
To accelerate ongoing socio-cultural change, the role of the parliamentarians is very important since they have close relationship with people at the grass root levels and also relationship and involvement at the top in policy level.
Despite some good stories of success, we have still more challenges to face. The demographic improvements are focused on urban areas, educated population and good socioeconomic background of the country.
How to cover all population to increase family planning use, and how to empower economically backward population are the challenges in the region. We have to find out the gaps and focus on marginalized and socially and economically backward population and localities of the country.Most of the SAARC countries are eagerly waiting for fresh data from the census and Demographic and Health survey, which provide insights into the status of the family planning and reproductive health. Parliamentarians, policy makers and, also, the media should understand that population elements should be integrated in all areas of development process. Population is the denominator of development output and family planning is the main contributing factor for fertility decline in SAARC region. Understanding these issues, parliamentarians as leaders of the community, society and nation as a whole should act and provide leadership accordingly.
It is hoped that this meeting will address the common issues on and share the problems and find out the ways and means to resolve the problems that we are facing especially in family planning and reproductive health in South Asia. I would like to thank ICOM for this environment for the meeting of all the South Asian parliamentarians and policy makers together and for discussing the common issues of family planning and reproductive health.
(Dr. Aryal is secretary to Ministry of Science and Technology. Excerpts of the statement delivered at the Regional Consultation with Parliamentarians and Policy Makers on Family Planning and Reproductive Health in South Asia-Addressing the Challenges.)