YOUTH – Pakistan’s Invaluable Asset

The admission and undertaking in the box above begins Pakistan’s National Youth Policy. No sane person could ever deny the importance of these words because it’s an irrefutable truth that, in a world where most people are in their dotage, young men and women of a nation are its prized asset. For Pakistan, the significance of youth is further enhanced because it is the country that is blessed with the fifth largest population of young people in the whole world.

The time of life between childhood and maturity is generally considered as youth. The United Nations, for statistical consistency across regions, defines ‘youth’, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. All UN statistics on youth are based on this definition, as illustrated by the annual yearbooks of statistics published by the United Nations system on demography, education, employment and health. However, Pakistan has adopted the Commonwealth standard which puts anyone between 15 and 29 years old in the youth cohort. Given any of these two age brackets, Pakistan stands tall as the fifth largest country of young population.

But, when it comes to ascertain the number of youths or their ratio in total population of Pakistan, mostly wrong data is referred to; often half, or sometimes even more, Pakistanis are said to be in this age group. Or sometimes, the number of young people is increased or decreased by some people on their own without any solid ground. It is sometimes witnessed on those fora from where one cannot even think that such mistake would be made. This can be rectified if the age brackets, as defined by the UN or the Commonwealth, or some other authentic sources, are adopted.

If we calculate the total of Pakistan’s youth population, keeping this phenomenon in view, then as per the US Census Bureau’s International database, total number of young people in Pakistan stands at 42.26 million as per the UN definition whereas as per the Commonwealth standards, it is 60.13 million. It means that according to the UN age bracket, Pakistanis are the fifteenth largest young nation in the whole world with 21.5% of its population comprising young men and women, and as per the Commonwealth standards, it is at sixteenth place with 30.7% young population.

This change in demographic profile warrants for prioritizing the solutions to the problems of the youth of Pakistan and cries for immediate, radical steps to exploit their talent, abilities and skills and benefit from those to the fullest. However, uptil the recent past, no solid measures were taken to channel this talent into country’s benefit. But as soon as the minimum age for a voter was fixed at 18 years adult the youth started to get increasingly important in country’s political arena. Policies and measures aimed at the development of the country’s youth were given far more importance in all parties’ manifestos than any time in the past. Governments too started taking more and more steps for this chunk of the population. Pakistan’s National Youth Policy was launched in December 2008. Launch of National Internship Programme, Skills Development Programmes, Laptop Scheme, Youth Festivals at provincial level, and more recently the Prime Minister’s Programme for Youth, mark the beginning of the series of steps to be taken for youth development. It is because all political parties of the country have now realized that young voters shall play a significant role in sending them to the corridors of power. Voters lists used in general elections 2013 speak volumes on this fact.

According to final electoral rolls, there were 17.5 million voters between the age of 18 and 25 years. It means that 20.35% of Pakistani voters fell in this group that could win nearly 20 National Assembly seats for them. If we increase the maximum age of 29 years, as defined by the Commonwealth, to 30 years, then votes of Pakistani youth between 18 and 30 years could help win one-third of the National Assembly seats because in 2013 elections, 35% of registered voters were young men and women.
According to Nadra Electoral Rolls Booklet, the Punjab was of special significance in 2013 elections because 56% of Pakistan’s total registered young voters belonged to this province. Sindh was second with 22% followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 15%, Balochistan with 4%, FATA with 2%, and Islamabad with 1%.
In voters lists for general elections 2013, there were 55% registered voters between the age of 18 and 25 years while for the age bracket of 18-30 years they were 62%. This created a great stir in political arena of the country. Think for a moment that if this registration reaches 100%, then no political force would get to the corridors of power without doing sufficient for the youth of Pakistan. Election Commission of Pakistan, political parties, civil society and media would have to play their constructive role continuously from one election to another to get 100% Pakistani youth registered and persuade them to cast their vote so as to be a part of the electoral process. This would help enhance their participation as representative as well as voter in this whole process, ergo increasing their role in bringing forth the true leadership for Pakistan.

In spite of their huge importance as political and human capital, Pakistani youth are still grappling with diverse problems ranging from economic to social ones. Social incongruities, terrorism, precarious law and order situation, energy crisis, deprivation from human rights, paucity of free and quality education opportunities, lack of career counselling, and more importantly no due heed to their voice are adding to their problems on political front and these culminate in economic problems for them. So there prevails a sense of uncertainty and job opportunities are becoming scantier day by day.

A report entitled “Pakistan Employment Trends 2013” delineates the youth’s unemployment situation in its “Employment-to-Population Ratio,” which is defined as “the proportion of the working population that is employed,” and that provides information, which is often more insightful than the unemployment rate, on the ability of an economy to create jobs.

The report asserts that during 2013-14, 39% of Pakistani youth belonging to the age bracket of 15-24 years were employed. Surprisingly, the major chunk of this employed lot belonged to Balochistan where 23.4% young men and women had jobs. Whereas the least number of youth employed was from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that could reach only 28.3%. Employed youth from Punjab and Sindh were 40.8% and 40.2% respectively.

A worrying aspect of this report is that the number of employed youth has seen a decline across Pakistan. In 2009-10, Pakistan’s 41.1% youth, in age bracket of 15-24 years, was on jobs while this number reduced to 39% in 2012-13 and this decline was also witnessed at the provincial level.

Government efforts aimed at solving youth’s economic issues and ensuring their access to quality education facilities have been under way from the platform of Prime Minister Youth Programme. Nevertheless, incorporation of their say in national, provincial and local development is still wanted. National Youth Policy mentions the establishment of National Youth Council headed by the Prime Minister, and also of Central Youth Councils and City Youth Councils, which haven’t seen the light of the day yet. Although a forum i.e. Youth Parliament, is available to Pakistani youth, yet there is an urgent need to make this forum play its role in national policymaking so that the youth could play its role in national and regional affairs.

These social and economic problems, and a dream of better and peaceful life abroad, allure Pakistani youth to go to foreign lands. This has effected the continuous flight of human capital and the brain drain at local, provincial and national levels. Though it is true that this migration has simultaneous negative and positive effects, yet we have to thwart this process of brain drain in the larger national interest.

These problems, and an attempt to finesse them, damage the mental health of young people and they begin to indulge in destructive activities rather than the constructive ones. The theme of International Youth Day 2014 was “Youth and Mental Health” under the slogan ‘Mental Health Matters,’ to eradicate the phenomena that damage the mental health of young people in order to enable them to play their constructive role in the development of the society at large.

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