Harnessing Our Youth Bulge — the Flaming Red Flag

IRSHAD SALIM (Updated) — While Pakistan’s population is 207 million its youth comprise (those under 30) almost 64 per cent of that population. Out of that, 29pct is between the age of 15 and 29 years, reveals UNDP’s Human Development Report 2017.

While the data (including national statistics, survey results and consultations) in the report was mostly completed in 2016, it remains relevant as we ring in 2020. And so does the population census figure of 2017 from an order-of-magnitude point of view.

Given the metric, Pakistan’s growing population which has a youth bulge is and will remain a demographic dividend — it is forecasted to continue to increase until at least 2050.

Also, such a statistical figure makes Pakistan the fifth largest “young country” in the world — and the second youngest in the South Asian region after Afghanistan.

Quantitatively, 59 million of the population are 20-to-24-year old, while 69 million are aged under 15. Adding the two numbers up, Pakistan has 128 million to 130 million young populace that can become a force multiplier in the socio-economic milieu — if unleashed.

However, according to a survey cited by Dawn, the most “stressed out” population in the country are its millennials — those falling between the ages of 18 and 33 years old (an age group the UNDP defines as the youth). This is a flaming red flag.

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The following situation adds negatively to the calculus:

Only six per cent of our youth are able to reach universities, and the women among them are only 3.5 per cent, according to a recent report published in The Express Tribune.

The big picture of the country’s youth bulge and a snapshot of the woefully low higher education — combined — puts into dire state the education profile of our youth — and it may remain so unless there’s proactiveness.

Add to the above is lack of health focus. The National Nutrition Survey 2018 “is a wake-up call to a clear and present emergency,” according to Country Representative, UNICEF Pakistan.

The youth empowerment is also constrained by lack of literacy: According to the report, 70 percent of our youth are illiterate, with a 50/50 male-female demography and 64 percent living in the cities. (See the graphic).

Adding all these up as variables, the overall effect these will compositely have on our human development going forward: health, education, wealth — is compelling — on both the quadrants: could be positive if tackled, or negative if ignored — today’s child is tomorrow’s youth.

Assuming the ‘business-as-usual’ while seeking a solution or set of solutions as we tackle the medium-to-long term attributes, calls for pragmatism: how can we still mobilize and harness our youtth bulge while we do the needful with the generation following them?

That’s something Khan-led PTI government ought to seriously think about — the youth is poised to critically impact Pakistan as a country if not dealt with appropriately, depending on how the country invests in them — providing them with quality education, health, employment and meaningful engagement opportunities.

Engagement is one of the key solution identities: Young people between the ages of 15 and 29 make up 42 pct of the country’s labor force and four million people reach the working age in the country every year.

There are always time-scaled-time-borne opportunities in crisis, say experts.

The gift of the gab is in a happy mix of public policy initiatives and the costs/benefits tradeoffs. It also demands considering the matter of national albeit national security interest.

We may be already in that zone. Here’s why:

The Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) and the dispatching of manpower overseas in return for remittances may have diminishing returns over the years.

Self-employment, entrepreneurship, seems to be a solution in the short-to-medium-term horizon.

HOW Can We Unleash Self-Employment Among Youth And Doff the Flaming Red Flag? NEXT Part…

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