Youth bulge: a blessing or a curse?

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By Erham Ahmad

Any human development study is incomplete without considering its young population, a phenomenon likely to have a profound impact on Pakistan’s future and an important part of every country as the future relies on them.

Currently, 64% of the Pakistani nation is younger than 30 and 29% of Pakistanis are between 15 and 29 (an age group which we define as the youth). Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had, and this is forecasted to continue to increase until at least 2050.

Unleashing the potential of young Pakistan is of very much importance. Because the youth have the power to transform a country’s future. They could be the engines of development. Or their disillusionment could lead to social unrest.

Pakistan’s National Human Development Report 2017 studies the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears of young Pakistanis to gather insights for transforming the “youth bulge” into a demographic dividend.

Before discussing the problems of young people, we need to briefly talk about what youth bulge is. Youth bulge is actually a phenomenon in which mortality rate of a country decrease while its fertility rate increases which results in the shape of a large share of population comprised of children and youth adults and today’s children are tomorrow’s youth adults.

In a country with a youth bulge, as the young adults enter the working age, the country’s dependency ratio, which means, the ratio of the non-working age population to the working age population, will decline. If the increase in the number of working age individuals can be fully employed in productive activities, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. And it will bring fruitful results. The youth bulge will become a demographic dividend. However, if a large cohort of young people cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb, because a large mass of frustrated youth is likely to become a potential source of social and political instability. Therefore, one basic measure of a country’s success in turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend is the youth employment rate.

 

 

Pakistan’s National Human Development Report 2017 by UNDR studies the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears of young Pakistanis to gather insights for transforming the “youth bulge” into a demographic dividend.

The voices of youth were heard in many ways, ranging from mainstream social media websites to more innovative approaches including direct consultation, art competitions, video messages, radio shows.

The findings of HNDR’s report are eye-opening as it revealed some important insights: 29 out of 100 young people are illiterate and only 6 percent have more than 12 years of education. Regarding employment, 39 of 100 youth are employed (32 of them males and 7 females), 57 of 100 youth (16 males and 41 females) are neither working nor seeking jobs, and only 4 percent are unemployed and actively looking for work.

According to UNDR report, there exists 3 E’s that can change the future of Pakistan and these three drivers of change are quality Education, gainful Employment, and meaningful Engagement.

In present times, we should take a strong note to the challenges and opportunities our youth is facing. Our government has to focus on such measures to improve human development outcomes by empowering young people, addressing the root causes of the obstacles they face, and by proposing innovative ways to overcome these challenges.

Today Pakistani youth is facing a lot of trouble. Despite being a major chunk of our population, our youth are lagging behind in every field. They have a major role to play in country’s progress but due to lack of support they are facing many new challenges in today’s society: they are afflicted by an identity crisis, lack of education, technical and vocational training, non-availability of employment opportunities, lack of self-confidence, a sense of hopelessness and confusion, and ambiguity concerning about moral issues and the future. They have been trapped in a culture marked by guns, violence and drugs.

If we talk about employment, so it needs experience like many jobs needs 4 years’ experience or 5 years’ experience. And the fresh graduates don’t have that much expertise. In case of Internships, there is a lot of exploitation, the heads or supervisor used to treat them as their servants, internships are mostly unpaid, which is great unfairness with them as they need their travel expenses and many more. I will really appreciate the efforts of our Prime Minister Imran Khan on the initiative of providing internships to fresh graduates. PM youth affair program has planned National Internship plan for fresh graduates in the country as reported by Radio Pakistan. The main objective of this program is to create maximum employment opportunities for youth. In this program, the participating graduates would be offered jobs in public as well as private sectors in the basis of their performances. After coming to power, the PTI government had promised to provide jobs to 10 million people. If the present government is successful in fulfilling their promise than our country will prosper in leaps and bounds.

In developed countries like Canada, cooperative education is given preference in some universities since it combines classroom-based education with practical work experience. By the time a student graduates, they are already industry-ready.

Similarly, in Germany, there are two tracks of education; after high school, depending on a student’s abilities and aptitude, you are either encouraged towards university or towards vocational education.

Recently organizations such as the Aman Foundation have stressed a great deal on promoting vocational education, but generally not enough attention has been given towards this.

There is another phenomenon is gaining attention day by day, Freelancing, which means providing your professional services to clients while staying at home. It is very easier way to employment for males as well as females too because many women don’t have permission to go outside for jobs. You can work according to your ease as you are only answerable to yourself not to your boss because many people left their jobs because of the harsh and intolerant behavior of their supervisors.

When we talk about Education, the condition is too bad and shocking. There also exists many educational systems and a large ratio of children is out of schools involved in begging, stealing, child labor etc. Around 25% of the Pakistani youth is illiterate whereas 8.2% is unemployed with no vocational and technical skills. Access to education remains low in the country with completion rate for primary education among the lowest in the world. Even then, the state spends only 2.2 percent of its budget on education as compared to the 3.6 percent fiscal spending on defence.

Next comes Engagement and Encouragement, it greatly impacts on youth’s behavior. If they are unemployed or less educated so they don’t be degraded instead they should be motivated and encouraged to get technical or vocational training. They should be engaged in some meaning full and productive, healthy activities. If youth are demotivated they will be on target of terrorism agencies and will be highly influenced by their tactics which may cause the unrest in social system.

Illiterate, unemployed and without a productive skill; young Pakistanis’ anxieties and frustrations are approaching boiling point. The presence of idle and unemployed young people in the developing world, or so-called “youth bulge,” is emerging as a catalyst for internal violence.

There exists a strong correlation between countries suffering from civil conflicts and those with rapidly increasing youth populations. This is widely accepted that youth bulge has a potential to destabilize countries in the developing world. Large pools of disaffected youths who are more vulnerable to recruitment into rebel or terrorist groups. Countries with weak political institutions are most vulnerable to youth bulge related violence and social unrest.

Vested interest groups and political and religious parties exploit the socio-cultural gaps and offer quick, expensive and even risky solutions like political rallies, religious processions, protests and mass activism which sometimes lead to shocking incidents like Mashal Khan murder, young suicide bombers and protests on Asia Bibi release (in blasphemy case).

Youth bulge not only causing social unrest but also crime rate and suicide rate increase.

In spite of the multiplicity of issues concerning youth, it is still a right time for the government to take some sensible steps towards youth empowerment. Pakistan is among 15 largest populated countries with having largest youth population in its history. There is a need of time that the government should consider its youth as an asset. And must acknowledge that Pakistan’s future is in the hands of youth.

The writer is a student of media at International Islamic University Islamabad