Three men who have fathered nearly 100 children among them are doing their bit for Pakistan’s skyrocketing population, which is being counted for the first time in 19 years.
But in a country where experts warn the surging populace is gouging into hard-won economic gains and social services, the three patriarchs are unconcerned. Allah, they say, will provide. Pakistan has the highest birth rate in South Asia at around three children per woman, according to the World Bank and government figures, and the census is expected to show that growth remains high.
“God has created the entire universe and all human beings, so why should I stop the natural process of a baby’s birth?” asks Gulzar Khan, a father of 36, citing one of the strongest influences in the region: the belief that Islam prevents family planning.
Tribal enmity is another factor in the northwest, where the 57-year-old lives in the city of Bannu with his third wife, who is pregnant.“We wanted to be stronger,” the 57-year-old, surrounded by 23 of his offspring – so many, he observes, they don’t need friends to play a full cricket match.
Polygamy is legal but rare in Pakistan, and families like Khan’s are not the norm, though the beliefs he holds are widespread.
The last census, held in 1998, showed Pakistan had a population of up to 135 million. Estimates suggest the new census – carried out earlier this year, with the preliminary results ..
The economy is expanding faster than it has in a decade, and last month Islamabad hiked its development budget by 40 per cent. But observers have warned the population boom is negating any progress, using up valuable resources in a young country where jobs are scarce and nearly 60 million people live below the poverty line.
The 70-year-old, with his bushy moustaches and bejewelled fingers, is a minor celebrity in North Waziristan tribal district, where his blinged out jeep – done in the style of Pakistan’s famous “jingle trucks”, with Pashto music pouring from the stereo – is a familiar sight.
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