The youth are considered the future of any society and a country. Over 64 percent of the population of Pakistan is below the age of 30 years, one of the largest young populations in the world. This can be turned into the greatest dividend for Pakistan if we are able to capitalize on it.
Unfortunately, lack of job opportunities, lack of social engagement, unequal education and health facilities, coupled with social injustices, outdated traditions, and an exclusionary attitude of community and society towards the youth are all turning this dividend into a ticking bomb. Young people’s dreams and aspirations to attain education and find respectable livelihoods turn into a nightmare. Therefore, the youth become frustrated when they do not find any hope for their future.
The UNDP Report 2020 indicates that 29 percent of the youth in Pakistan is illiterate while only six percent have more than 12 years of education. It also states that four million youngsters enter the working age population and only 39 percent get employed every year. The most alarming situation is that almost half of the country’s young are not in education, employment or training.
A huge number of Pakistani young people acquire training through the informal sector; consequently, they do not get proper skills and formal certification. This segment of the young does not get employment as skilled workers in national and international markets, and they end up in working with the informal sector with no legal protection of their rights. The ILO estimates that the unemployment rate for 2020-21 will remain at 9.56 percent. To improve labor force participation rates, an additional 1.3 million jobs must be generated each year for the next five years.
We are living in a most intense period of social unrest, rapid economic, social, climatic and catastrophic changes, and individualism and identity crisis. Severe disparities and poor political and socioeconomic conditions may motivate frustrated and deprived young individuals to participate in violent and extremist activities.
Human resource development plays a substantial role in the development of individuals, families and societies at large. Pakistan’s Human Development Index for 2020 is 0.557, putting the country in the medium human development category, positioning it at 154 out of 189 countries and territories. In the context of regional comparison in the education index, only Afghanistan lags behind Pakistan. If the right strategies and policies are not put in place today to meaningfully engage the youth in the community, deliver quality education and secure future livelihoods, the biggest workforce we have will be at risk of becoming marginalized, intolerant, vulnerable to social ills and unable to contribute towards the broader development of society.
Although the government has launched Kamyab Jawan Program for the youth, it is not possible to absorb the two million young workforce entering the market each year. Pakistan can turn its youth bulge into a demographic dividend by enabling the economy to absorb the unemployed youth through jobs and entrepreneurial skills. The future of any country lies in the hands of its young – which is why there is a need to capitalize on our youth for economic, social and political progress. The government should guarantee quality education, provide vocational skill trainings, decent work opportunities and address health and other challenges of the youth.
A demographic dividend has a positive impact on economic progress, political stability, and social and sustainable development. The government should focus on enhancing its political will to ensure transparency, and improve overall education, employment opportunities and youth development policies lack of which hinder youth engagement in nation-building. The government should also focus on the promotion of startup businesses, tax rebates for young entrepreneurs and employees, promotion of domestic and international tourism, and work on resource generation through sports and festivals.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) estimates that Pakistan’s population is currently growing at an unsustainable rate (2.4 percent annual average). It is expected that over the next four decades around 2.1 million young people will enter the labor force in Pakistan, reaching a projected 181 million by 2050. The government must work on the capacity building of health institutions, education institutions and also create job opportunities to support the fast-growing population. This will not be possible without investments in effective policy interventions, establishing good governance, quality education, health, job creation and infrastructure development. It is important to address this rising challenge to promote youth engagement through quality education, employment, social engagement and political empowerment.
The government should ensure equal access to education for both men and women, with an environment where exploration of new ideas and critical thinking is encouraged. It is more important to provide sufficient employment opportunities for the youth to reduce their frustration and vulnerabilities that ultimately lead to a reduction in their chance to participate in radicalization and violent extremism. If the sense of disparities and deprivations remains in society, it can lead to social unrest and ultimately affect national security at large. By addressing violence, corruption and repression, we can enhance the country’s stability and reduce prospects for violence and extremism.
It is very important to maintain the dynamics between education and employment. The government should establish more technical training centers in different parts of the country to generate skilled labor force to meet the demand of skilled labor nationally and in the international market. Keeping in view the technological advancements of the era, the government should focus on possible youth entrepreneurship initiatives in the field of technology, education, health and online businesses.
The demographic variation can have explosive socioeconomic and political consequences until the people are given equal access to health, education and livelihood and their feeling of deprivation is addressed.
The writer is project assistant,Resilient Development at SDPI, Islamabad.
The views in this article are the writer’s own and have no link with the organization he works for.
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