Despite the taboo, why is abortion rate in Pakistan one of the highest in the world?

Despite the taboo around it, Pakistan's abortion rate is one of the highest in the world. This is why we need to reflect on the health implications affiliated with it.

Mehnaz sits inside her home in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan. She has one son and six daughters. She has also had three abortions, fearing she would have more girls.
Diaa Hadid/NPR

Despite the social dynamics and taboos circling the topic, the abortion rate in Pakistan still is one of the highest in the world. Due to little to no awareness about contraception, abortion is the form of ‘birth control’ Pakistanis exercise.

However, this method, particularly being carried out in an unsafe environment, has unexplained health implications. Even when our media and authorities have maintained a blind eye towards it, a study by America’s National Public Radio revealed the horrifying number of unsafe abortions taking place in Pakistan.

The said report revealed that 48% of pregnancies in Pakistan are unintended, of which 54% are terminated. The process of abortion or termination of pregnancies is carried out in unsafe settings, which leads to health complications. About one-third of the women who resort to these traditional methods suffer heavy bleeding, perforated uterus, and deadly infections.

According to family planning researchers, abortion provisions in the country’s penal code are unclear and vague. The procedure is considered legal ”only in very limited circumstances”. According to Zeba Sathar, the Pakistan director of Population Council, these circumstances include ”need” for abortion – noted that need is not defined by any means.

Lack of contraceptive awareness cause of high abortion rate:

Guttmacher Institute


The number of unintended pregnancies in Pakistan is high due to low contraception usage. According to the recent Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2017-2018), only around 34% of married women use some form of family planning.

Among the said percentage, only 25% of them use modern contraceptive methods. However, others only rely on less effective traditional methods like withdrawal and breastfeeding. What is more alarming is that the use of contraception methods has remained stagnant over the last five years – when the last time the survey was conducted.

Guttmacher Institute

Due to health complications, it is ideal to have spacing between childbirth. But due to no access to them, they have no other option. It must be kept in consideration that Pakistan also has the highest maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate in the region. The prime reason is no education on the subject, low contraceptive prevalence rates, and poor health facilities.

Family planning was the responsibility of the center a few years back. However, after that, it came down to the provinces. The provincial governments paid little to no attention to the subject, which leads to accumulation and gravity.

Large family sizes leading to high maternal and infant mortality:

A Pakistani woman carries her son as she walks on a street in Islamabad on May 13, 2012, on Mother’s Day. Pakistan celebrated Mother’s Day on May 13 to share their sentiments and express love for their mothers. AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM

Sathar reflected on how large family sizes are contributing to compromised health and dire long-term consequences. Due to the low literacy rate, low access, and authorities’ negligence, the family in the lower economic bracket tend to have more children.

“We found to our surprise that most of the women had more than three children, maybe as many as five” – Sathar says.

“They were almost all — 90 to 95 per cent — married. They were older, so they tended to be poorer, less educated.”

Dr Allah Nawaz, head of Thardeep – an NGO working in Thar for the last two decades, expressed similar views while speaking about infant deaths in Thar. He said that the issue is far more complicated than what is preached on media.

He said that children are not only dying due to the shortage of food and water. Women, there are treated like animals by their husbands. They are purposefully kept uneducated and unaware so, they hardly know about their rights, anything about reproductive health and childcare.

Thar’s dilemma is no different:

The executive director of AWARE (Association for Water, Applied Education, and Renewable Energy) actually agrees with Dr. Nawaz as well. He says that new-born children just don’t become ill overnight and die, that is a chain of events that puts children on a deathbed.

Another contributing reason is that while the legal age to marry in Pakistan is 18 years, girls in Tharparkar are married off at the age of 12. Birth without a gap, teen pregnancies and unbalanced diet also lead to malnutrition children when they are born. In Mithi district hospital, a mother gave birth to her tenth baby.

‘’The mother is only 28 years old and this is not an exception, we see many such cases every day’’ – Ghulam Rasool, a district health officer.

According to the officer, in 2015 there were 277 neonatal deaths. That number has now increased to 334 in 2017. This year until now, 512 children between the age of 1 to 5 have died.

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