The current population of Pakistan is 204 million which is 2.65 percent of the total world population. As per the new National Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); Pakistan is currently having the highest population of youth. Pakistan is termed as one of the youngest countries in the world and second youngest in South Asia, right below Afghanistan. A total of 64% of the total population is below the age of 30 while 29% of it belongs to the age bracket of 15 to 29 years.
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.
Having a huge percentage of youth is a great advantage for the country if managed properly. If the government invests in its youth with education, employment and other opportunities, a country can witness great economic growth. Pakistani youth are passionate and have tremendous capacity to contribute to the progress and development of Pakistan, yet they are disillusioned, restless and unhappy with the current status quo. The youth of any country is very fragile, if not in safe hands, it can lead to a destruction of the country.
Different findings revealed some interesting acumens. For example 29 out of 100 young people are illiterate and only 6 percent have more than 12 years of education. Regarding employment, 39 of 100 youth are employed (32 of them males and 7 females), 57 of 100 youth (16 males and 41 females) are neither working nor seeking jobs, and only 4 percent are unemployed and actively looking for work.
Significant gaps were also found with regard to the space for social engagement and connectivity. Only 15 percent of youth have access to the Internet, 52 percent own a cell phone, 94 percent do not have access to a library, and 93 percent lack access to a sports facility.
Pakistan’s constitution promises free education to all school age children. Unfortunately, the report finds that a staggering 9.45 million children are out of primary school. At the current annual net enrolment rate of 0.92 percent, complete enrollment of school children won’t be reached until 2076. To meet the goal by 2030, the annual net enrolment rate has to quadruple to 3.8 percent.
Almost 4 million youth enter the working age population every year. If the current labor force participation rate and unemployment levels remain constant, 0.9 million new jobs are needed every year over the next five years. If we aim to improve labor force participation rates, an additional 1.3 million jobs must be created each year for the next five years.
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. Pakistan’s National Human Development Report 2017 studies the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears of young Pakistanis to gather insights for transforming the “youth bulge” into a demographic dividend. It analyzes young people’s voices by consulting more than 130,000 people across Pakistan, of which 90 percent were youth, including marginalized and underprivileged young communities.
For the urban youth population which has access to education, there is little understanding of the potential of entrepreneurship. Mentoring and career counselling is also not easily available.Pakistani youth are extremely anxious about crime and terrorism, rate of unemployment and lack of opportunities in the country. Many of those who can, choose to migrate to other countries for better opportunities. If engaged and utilized properly, the youth can serve as catalysts for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the country.
According to a World Bank Survey, 63% live in the rural areas of Pakistan which in turn accounts for almost 80% of the country’s poor. Agriculture is the main source of income in the rural economy. Despite the fact that Pakistan is an agrarian based economy and a substantial portion of the GDP comes from the agriculture sector, things have not improved in a major way for the marginal and the landless farmers. They are deprived of adequate income sources, housing, healthcare, education, hygiene and sanitation and basic human rights. The lack of opportunities in the rural areas, lower wages and seasonal occupation, is creating a population migration to urban centres which are already battling to provide adequate resources to all; hence this shift creates more slums, unemployment and crime. Unequal land ownership is one of the main causes behind rural poverty. Land is the prime asset in agriculture, it is, however, unfortunate that a majority of farmers have either very small holdings or are landless. Ownership of large land holdings is concentrated in a small number of households. Farmers without land are at the mercy of the feudal or the large land owners, serving the master and not realizing their true potential. In non-agricultural sectors of livestock, labor, trade and services, wages are low and without formal training the insight on how to increase productivity is limited. Government policies do little to address rural poverty, landless farmers and the non-agricultural rural community. Educational facilities tend to be deficient, gender discrimination is high and education for girls is almost non-existent. There is stark disparity between the educational attainment levels and health indicators of the rural population compared with the urban population.
It is imperative to identify the catalysts of change that can empower youth and bind their potential for human development. Education impacts the next lever of change i.e. gainful employment. Meaningful engagement is an important pillar of development in a country where the majority of the youth feel their voices are unheard and that they have little say in decision-making. Lack of social engagement is creating doubt, intolerance and distrust among young people. The youth of Pakistan are full of potential, energy and ideas. What they need is an enabling environment that will allow them to take risks, innovate and engage productively. The youth protuberance of Pakistan offers a potentially important demographic dividend. However, if proper investments are not made in promoting education, employment and engagement, the youth could represent a demographic challenge. This is a policy choice to be made by the policy makers and the time is now.