Since the 1990s, Pakistan has had a ‘youth bulge’. Most of our population is between 15 to 29 years of age. This trend is estimated to continue past 2050, when the majority of our population will start to age. Currently, 64 percent of the Pakistani population is under 30 years, while 29 percent belongs to the 15 to 29 years age bracket. By 2030, our total population will have increased to around 280 million, 100 million of which will be made up exclusively by the youth.
According to the PM’s Youth Programme, all projects under the initiative’s umbrella come under education, employment, and engagement. While the initiative is applaudable, is it effective enough to deal with the volume of problems it faces?
In education and literacy, most of our youth reside in the rural portion of the country, and lack access to quality education. The enrollment rates of primary versus middle schools show a funnel effect: roughly 22.5 million children enroll in primary schools annually, which drops to 7 million at the middle-school level.
A disparity exists between genders too. Only 13 percent of females reach the 9th grade, and 12 million girls remain out of school. What education is imparted is plagued with issues of overage enrollment, increasing gap between syllabus and industry requirements at the higher education level, and lack of focus on technical training.
Pakistan’s literacy and education is bad enough as a standalone issue, but it exacerbates unemployment. According to the Pakistan Labor Force Survey 2020-2021, out of the 4.51 million unemployed people of working age, around 75.9 percent belong to the 15 to 34 years age bracket. Though youth initiatives have succeeded in creating new jobs, the number of jobs created is still too low to accommodate 1.5 million new workers that enter the market yearly in Pakistan.
The youth are still shamefully absent from legislative and policy-making regardless of being the biggest stakeholder group. According to the Pakistan Youth Development Index 2021, out of the 5 domains affecting young people, civic and political participation remains worst performing.
The crises do not end here. The youth are still shamefully absent from legislative and policy-making regardless of being the biggest stakeholder group. According to the Pakistan Youth Development Index 2021, out of the 5 domains affecting young people, civic and political participation remains worst performing. Since the 18th amendment, youth affairs are the responsibility of the provinces, though the lack of attention bestowed can be seen in how outdated these policies are: Punjab’s youth policy was put forward in 2012, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s in 2016, and Sindh’s in 2018, while the Balochistan Youth Policy only exists as a draft since 2015 and is yet to be tabled, 7 years on. Many youth representatives in the government do not count as a member of the youth age bracket at all, and student unions remain banned even three decades later.
Political participation in Pakistan is severely lacking at the grassroots level, and poses a question to whether a country can aim towards true democracy while much of its population remains unaware of and kept out of the policy-making that affects their lives.
The situation is dire. Thankfully, we are not yet at the stage where this demographic youth bulge turns into a mismanaged disaster. The window of opportunity could have been smaller had work on this started a decade ago.
Urgent, effective policy-making can help turn the situation around. This will require involving youth in designing and implementing of youth policies, made effective by conducting needs analysis by the youth demographic’s subcategories (gender, age, family income, etc). Vulnerable groups must be identified and paid adequate attention to. The youth policies of all the provinces seem to be quiet on young transgenders and religious minorities. Budgeting and resource allocation must be more proactive and specific, with a clear definition of where the budget to go into youth affairs will be collected from.
Punjab’s youth policy was put forward in 2012, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s in 2016, and Sindh’s in 2018, while the Balochistan Youth Policy only exists as a draft since 2015 and is yet to be tabled, 7 years on.
In the education sector, we have a vacuum, requiring well-trained teachers who can impart knowledge and thinking skills today’s world requires. Effective teachers in quality educational institutes all over the country, with an extensive scholarships and financial aid programme will help keep more children in school, if implemented with a special focus on rural areas. An extensive network of technical and vocational training institutes will create a skilled, certified labour force, and help young people avoid the informal work sector, where they are often exploited.
A focus on digital skills will allow the youth to benefit from virtual work opportunities, but this will require ensuring internet connectivity in 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 in starting up new businesses.
Youth’s political engagement from the grassroots to apex is essential for national progress. As the voice of a majority of our population cannot be left unheard. Political parties must form youth wings and allow politically-active youth a chance to advance. At the least, student unions must be unbanned, and the local governments should be inclusive, so that any policy-making that affects the youth can truly address their needs and be maximally effective.
Pakistan has a limited window of opportunity 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, seek to improve the situation of Pakistan’s youth. Urgent, effective, and consistent work will lead us to a future that sees a proactive, competent youth leading the country’s affairs within a decade.