Empower the youth to fuel development in Pakistan

Pakistan's youth surge is set to critically impact the country's future.

By Waqar Mustafa

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Published: Mon 24 Jun 2019, 10:17 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Jun 2019, 12:18 AM

Developing countries including Pakistan may see around half of their young people fall below the poverty line if they fail to implement effective policies for them and invest in their future, a UN agency has warned. The Rome-based agency, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in its Rural Development Report for 2019 says the youth, most of whom live in rural areas, are prone to poverty and inequality and held back by lack of training and skills, limited access to land and credit, scarce availability of inputs and restricted links to social networks.

Pakistan has the largest population of young people ever recorded in its history. It is one of the youngest countries in the world and the second youngest in South Asia after Afghanistan. About 64 per cent of the country's population is below the age of 30, and 29 per cent is between the ages of 15-29 years. The situation poses human development challenges and opportunities. Those who are between 15 and 29 today will determine the future of the country, according to Dr Adil Najam, the lead author of another UN report on Pakistan published last year. Meaningful opportunities in education, employment and engagement could empower the country's young to unleash their potential. Yet, as suggested by the study, only 14 out of 195 countries spend less on education than Pakistan while nine of these have a lower Human Development Index ranking than Pakistan. With a youth literacy of barely 70.7per cent - and that too not without area and gender disparities, Pakistan fares poorly compared with other regional countries, and so, the youth unemployment in Pakistan has surged. People in rural areas, women, and transgender remain underserved and face a wide array of challenges.

Justin Yifu Lin, a World Bank economist, says a youth bulge - such as Pakistan's - can either become a demographic dividend or a bomb, depending on how population is employed in productive activities.

Pakistan's government has just launched an ambitious programme aimed at providing job opportunities, education, soft loans and professional skills to the youth of the country. One-fourth of the soft loans are to be given to young women enabling them to run their own business. A Youth-Plus Portal has been established to get feedback and suggestions. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan has begun emphasising academia-industry linkages.

To be able to make good of the demographic dividend and allow individuals to progress, the youth need inclusion and a well-thought-out absorption. The bulging idle youth of Pakistan needs support to become catalyst for poverty reduction and economic growth. A study by Misal Waqar titled, Youth bulge and idle youth: An untamed lion on the loose, suggests a number of policy initiatives including provision of quality education at primary and secondary levels for all; development of education sector and labour market information systems so that graduates are industry-ready; provision of a high-quality career guidance counselling and training responsive to the needs of the country; provision of microcredit without any mark-up; consistency of political policies and bringing all youth programmes under one umbrella; putting unskilled people to use; making farming a mainstay; making non-state sector attractive and according respect to various professions; job security; and ensuring a mechanism for monitoring and accountability.

In Pakistan, the world's 26th-largest economy and sixth most populous country, agriculture accounts for roughly 25 per cent of the GDP. Pakistan is among the world's top producers of wheat, cotton, sugarcane, mango, dates, rice, and oranges. However, poverty is predominantly a rural problem, with rural people comprising more than 60 per cent of the population and accounting for 80 per cent share of the country's poor. And so, the '2019 Global Food Policy Report' - released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) - recommends revitalising rural areas with a focus on creating farm and non-farm rural employment opportunities, achieving gender equality, addressing environmental challenges, improving access to energy and investing in good governance.

Pakistan's youth surge is set to critically impact the country's future. The quality of its young people's transition to adulthood and their economic, political, and social integration will influence how the collective progress. It is here, the country needs to invest the most.

Waqar Mustafa is a multimedia journalist and commentator ?based in Lahore, Pakistan

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