Youth bulge: Demographic dividend or disaster?
So the situation is dire, as it often is in regards to Pakistan and the myriad of crises that we face.
Thankfully, we are not yet at the stage where this demographic youth bulge turns into a mismanaged disaster for us.
The window of opportunity we have is comparatively shorter than it would have been had work on this been started, say, a decade ago, but better late than never.
Urgent, effective policy making can help turn the situation around. This will require involving the youth themselves in the designing and implementation of youth policies, made effective by conducting needs analysis by the youth demographic’s subcategories (gender, age, family income bracket, etc).
Vulnerable groups must not only be identified, but paid adequate attention to; the youth policies of all the provinces seem to be mostly quiet on young transgenders and religious minorities.
Budgeting and resource allocation must be more proactive and specific as well, with clear definition of where the budget to go into youth affairs will be collected from.
With regards to increasing literacy and improving education, we have a serious need for well-trained teachers who can impart to students the knowledge and thinking skills that the world today requires, instead of rote learning of facts.
Effective teachers in quality, yet affordable educational institutes all over the country, with an extensive scholarships and financial aid programme will serve to help keep more children in school.
This should be implemented with a special focus on rural areas that are usually ignored. A wide-spread network of technical/vocational training institutes will also help in the creation of a skilled, certified labour force and help avoid more young people entering the informal work sector where they are exploited.
Concentrating on imparting digital skills to the youth will also allow them to benefit from digital work opportunities from all over the globe, and ease up the unemployment rates.
This will require ensuring internet connectivity in the rural areas. Entrepreneurship is another route that can allow young people to become self-employed, or even create more jobs, with appropriate facilitation from the government with respect to starting up new businesses.
Political engagement of the youth is essential in Pakistan, from the grassroots level to the very top.
As 64 percent of the population, our voices cannot be left unheard or made to quieten down.
Political parties must all form youth wings the way PTI has, and allow the politically active youth a chance to come forward.
At the very least, student unions must be unbanned, and the youth should be allowed a seat at the local government level, so that any policy making that affects the youth can truly address the needs of the youth bulge and be maximally effective.
Pakistan has a limited window of opportunities to harness this youth bulge into a demographic dividend that will improve the population’s quality of life and ultimately reflect on the country’s state of affairs.
Luckily, many of the Sustainable Development Goals, in line with our Vision 2025, are in regards to improving the situation of Pakistan’s youth.
Urgent, effective and consistent work will lead us to a future that sees a more proactive and competent youth leading the country’s affairs in just a few decades.
—The writers are contributing columnist.