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Is young Pakistan on right track?

Dr. Muhammad Shahbaz


The writer is research fellow at University of Cambrdige, UK and Professor at Biejing Institue of Technlogy China.

Any study of human development is incomplete without considering demographic transition; a phenomenon likely to have a profound impact on Pakistan’s future, given its young population. Pakistan is considered to be the fifth largest young country in the world. Around 64% population of the country comprises youth aged between 15 and 33 (UN Population Fund Report 2017).

Such a large young population has posed daunting challenges to social, economic and political sectors of the state. Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had, and this is forecasted to continue to increase until at least 2050. Because the youth have the power to transform a country’s future. They could be the engines of development. Or their disillusionment could lead to social unrest. Unfortunately, lack of job opportunities, lack of social engagement, unequal education and health facilities, coupled with social injustices, outdated traditions, and an exclusionary attitude of community and society towards the youth are all turning this dividend into a ticking bomb.

Young people’s dreams and aspirations to attain education and find respectable livelihoods turn into a nightmare. Therefore, the youth become frustrated when they do not find any hope for their future. The UNDP Report 2021 indicates that 29% of the youth in Pakistan is illiterate while only six percent have more than 12 years of education. It also states that four million youngsters enter the working age population and only 39% get employed every year. The most alarming situation is that almost half of the country’s young are not in education, employment or training.

A huge number of Pakistani young people acquire training through the informal sector; consequently, they do not get proper skills and formal certification. This segment of the young does not get employment as skilled workers in national and international markets, and they end up in working with the informal sector with no legal protection of their rights. A demographic dividend has a positive impact on economic progress, political stability, and social and sustainable development.

The government should focus on enhancing its political will to ensure transparency, and improve overall education, employment opportunities and youth development policies lack of which hinder youth engagement in nation building. The government should also focus on the promotion of startup businesses, tax rebates for young entrepreneurs and employees, promotion of domestic and international tourism, and work on resource generation through sports and festivals.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) estimates that Pakistan’s population is currently growing at an unsustainable rate (2.4% annual average). It is expected that over the next four decades around 2.1 million young people will enter the labor force in Pakistan, reaching a projected 181 million by 2050. The government must work on capacity building of health institutions, education institutions and also create job opportunities to support the fast-growing population.

We are living in a most intense period of social unrest, rapid economic, social, climatic and catastrophic changes, and individualism and identity crisis. Severe disparities and poor political and socioeconomic conditions may motivate frustrated and deprived young individuals to participate in violent and extremist activities. Human resource development plays a substantial role in the development of individuals, families and societies at large.

The future of any country lies in the hands of its young which is why there is a need to capitalize on our youth for economic, social and political progress. The government should guarantee quality education, provide vocational skill trainings, decent work opportunities and address health and other challenges of the youth. Political participation by citizens is the cornerstone of all successful democratic societies.

This is especially important in countries with large youth populations as young people’s involvement in the democratic process is instrumental for creating peaceful, vibrant, and responsive political structures. However, the mere existence of electoral politics does not translate into effective youth participation; in fact, this should be complimented with recognized representative bodies of young people to provide them with constructive platforms to participate in or influence the democratic process. Pakistan has seen a gradual disintegration of political space for vocal young people to become career politicians or to present their demands before democratically elected representatives.

Youth vote as a driver of reform. At the time of the 2013 general election, a fifth of Pakistan’s 85 million registered voters were under 25 while 15% between 26 and 30. Since then some 15,000 people are turning 18 each day, adding 10 million people to the voters list until the 2018 general elections. Young people value service delivery that responds to its needs: better health, better education and more jobs, clean drinking water to name a few.

The incumbent and future government’s desire to capture the youth vote may drive the desire to tap into the youth’s aspirations and push for required reform. Similarly, political engagement remains a challenge and avenue for engagement. UNDP’s survey indicated a clear sign of mistrust of politics among young people with only 24% expressing any trust in politicians. That said, young people remain politically active with 4 out of 5 young people having voted in the last election and over 60% intending to do so again. The results indicate that young people do indeed aspire to become active participants of the political process and communities but do lack formal avenues to do so.

In recent years, the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan has been accompanied by an exponential increase in the population of young people who are politically conscious and increasingly vocal about their rights and needs: it is estimated that almost 46% of Pakistan’s total electorate comprises young people. While the transition towards permanent representative bodies to formally channelize the energy and dynamism of young people is still underway, mainstream political parties have increasingly started attracting younger voters through traditional (membership drives) and non-traditional (social media) means.

Youth have interests in political activities, such as to participate in political discussions in public spheres. A greater vaue of the respondents are living in a joint family system that is an essential part of political socialization among families. In terms of participating in general elections, youth likely to participate in electoral activities, they like to wear T-shirts, donating money to political parties, motivating others and also representing as youth political agenda in the polling stations.

There are two potential initiatives to empower youth participation in the Pakistani political cycle. First, the promotion of legal frameworks, policies, and plans that will encourage more substantial youth representation within electoral and parliamentary processes. Secondly, youth must be encouraged to take part in decision-making and development processes, particularly those related to governance and the implementation of sustainable solutions for humanitarian and peace building initiatives. The youth of Pakistan must focus on their problems and their solutions instead of so much involvement in politics.

The problems facing by the youth are frustration, unemployment, poverty, pressure from parents and a rigid system is also a bolt from blue to our youth, health care availability, illiteracy, crime, poor law enforcement, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, education and marriage, husband’s insecurities, child labor, drug addiction, depression and suicide, solutions of these problems of youth of Pakistan are; eradicating poverty through education, skill development, and job opportunities in society, maintaining law and order situation in the country.

 

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