M Murtaza Noor
YOUTH empowerment, active youth participation and provision of education and employment to the young population are considered as avenues to future development for any country and society. According to Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016 (YDI), out of 183 countries, Pakistan has witnessed the largest decline with 154 the position in its overall youth development score by 18 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
Pakistan performed even worse than war-torn Syria and Iraq which stood at 137 and 145 respectively. Compared to its neighbours and other South Asian nations, Pakistan lagged behind India (133), Iran (94), China (118), Sri Lanka (31), Nepal (77), Maldives (62), Bhutan (69) and Bangladesh (147), even other Islamic countries have performed well than Pakistan i.e Saudi Arabia (54), Kuwait (56), Malaysia (34) and United Arab Emirates (107). Interestingly, outof the 183 countries included in the index, 142 recorded improvement in their YDI scores between 2010 and 2015
The 18 per cent downward slide in Pakistan’s YDI score over the past five years was the most for any country in the region as well as globally. It has been brought about by a dramatic fall in the domains of civic participation (58 per cent) and political participation (69 per cent. Pakistan’s low score was explained by its performance in the areas of education (156th position with 0.474 score), financial inclusion and political participation. The country scored below the South Asian average in all domains of the YDI except health and well-being.
In Pakistan, youth constitute one quarter of the country‘s total population and represent the most energetic section of the society which has the potential to contribute for socio-economic and political development of the country. Unfortunately, in terms of civic participation, they are the most neglected demographic. If we look closely throughout the country‘s history, policy makers, governments and political parties have ignored the benefits of engaging them in productive sectors of economy by tapping human resource. In Pakistan, student unions and societies used to play a very influential role in national politics. With the abolishment of all student unions three decades ago and ineffectiveness of student societies, the enthusiasm of young people in the country to participate in national affairs through institutionalized mechanisms has consistently declined.
According to the countrywide survey conducted by Centre for Civic Education Pakistan, a vast majority of the youth (79.6 present) has never taken part in the scouting and girl guides. An amazing majority of youth population (72.6 percent) showed willingness to get involved in voluntary services; while majority of respondents (60.8 percent) desired to work for social organizations.
Recognizing the effective role of the youth to counter extremism in the society, overwhelming majority of 85.4 percent believe that Pakistani youth can play a constructive role in combating growing extremism in the society. Today, violence and conflict are among the most important challenges being confronted by the youth as vulnerable segment of society. A peaceful environment is a pre-condition for proper youth development. Yet young people in many parts of the world are caught in a vortex of violence and armed conflicts. About 600 million young people live in conflict-ridden or conflict prone areas. Violence is taking a heavy toll on mental and physical health of people as, according to Amartya Sen, violence is a terrible experience.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were unanimously adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) including Pakistan at a significant summit of the world’s leaders in September 2015. The new aspiring 2030 Agenda calls on countries to undertake concrete steps to achieve these goals over the next fifteen years through collaborative efforts. These goals have set ambitious targets for the global community, but these can only be achieved if young people are empowered enough to participate in and contribute to national development.
According to recent report published by UN Population Fund the younger age group has not positively impacted youth between 20 and 24 years. Having no access to education, many turn to manual labour to support themselves while girls marry young, often with negative consequences for their reproductive health and life opportunities. Lack of investment in female education has impacted women’s participation in the workforce. The report suggests that any youth development policy task force must look into creating linkages between several sectors — health, education, child protection, employment, population — when drawing a framework and coordinating efforts between provincial partners. The civil society, youth and student organizations also need to monitor the fulfillment of commitments/promises made by ruling parties regarding youth development in their election manifestos. Youth development schemes announced by federal and provincial governments need effective implementation through a merit based and transparent mechanism.
The reservation of seats for the youth in local bodies’ is appreciable step but this step will be more fruitful with functional and empowered local bodies’ institutions. Political parties should make their structures more inclusive for engaging youth for a constructive role in nation building. Student Unions and societies should also be restored at the educational institutions to positively engage and coach the youth. The federal and provincial governments and universities should also need to engage youth in processes aimed at promoting active citizenship, values of peace, tolerance, harmony and inculcating problem-solving skills. Civic Education and career counselling should be made a compulsory part of the curriculum at all levels of education. The electronic and print media also need to devote more time to youth related issues.
There is also a dire need to involve young people in decisions that will affect them. With provision of decent job opportunities, political participation, negotiating power, active involvement in different spheres of life, they can be instrumental in creating bright, prosperous and better future for themselves and for Pakistan.
— The writer is working as National Coordinator with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan, an autonomous largest alliance of Pakistani universities.