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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 16:31 GMT

World: South Asia

Pakistan attacked on birth control

Dr Sadiq says women feel pushed into having large families

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

The executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr Nafis Sadiq, has called on Pakistani politicians and religious leaders to reach a consensus on the need for birth control in the country.

According to Dr Sadiq, religious-based parties that oppose birth control should understand that Islam is not against women or family planning.

She said that many Pakistani women want to have smaller families, but are under pressure from their relatives to produce more children. Dr Sadiq thinks that Islam should not be used to push women into having larger families.

Dr Sadiq says that a correct interpretation of Islam shows that both boys and girls should be educated and women should have equal rights in choosing a marriage partner.

She objects to the situation in which value not based on religion - but rather the status quo - being used to justify discriminatory treatment of women.

Dr Sadiq said that there is a need for stronger political leadership on these issues, pointing out that some countries - such as Iran and Bangladesh - have enjoyed considerable success in reducing population growth by forging political agreement on the issue.

But the UN official said that despite the difficulties there had been progress in Pakistan.

UN experts are agreed that while figures remain high, the size of families in Pakistan is declining.

The latest statistics indicate that while many women complain about the lack of access to birth control, contraceptive usage amongst women has increased to 27%.

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