August 12 is celebrated as the national youth day in Pakistan to highlight the role of youth, comprising the major portion of demography, in the country’s development. After Yemen, Pakistan has second highest percentage of youth population but this asset is not being utilized to its full potential. It is sad to see that the challenges of equitable education, healthcare, and employment opportunities are routinely dismissed by the government in the implementation of its youth development policies. This raises questions of whether Pakistan realizes the significance of harnessing demographic dividends that lead to higher productivity and economic growth. And yet, the education infrastructure remains inadequate for even the current school-going population, especially in the rural areas. More schools will be needed, and additional teachers trained and hired. Improvement has been incremental at best, even though current figures show that sustained advocacy and donor funding have led to higher enrolment figures than before: 86pc of all boys and 75pc of all girls aged between 10 and 14 years go to school, according to a recent report. As of 2017, literacy rate of Pakistan’s youth is 58 percent.
With the overall picture being abysmal, it is not surprising that the small gains of the younger age group have not positively impacted youth between 20 and 24 years. Having no access to education, many turn to manual labor to support themselves while girls marry young, often with negative consequences for their reproductive health and life opportunities. Lack of investment in female education has impacted women’s participation in the workforce. And even if job opportunities are available to women, patriarchal attitudes keep them back. However, the fact that changing demographics predict an increase in the working-age population — from 85m in 2010 to 300m in 2050 — makes this the right time for formulating effective labor force policies as more youngsters enter adulthood. Any youth development policy task force must look into creating linkages between several sectors — health, education, child protection, employment, population — when drawing a framework and coordinating efforts between provincial partners. Government failure to harness the youth bulge in the next 10 to 20 years will have tragic consequences in the shape of economic stagnation, more recruits for militancy and political conflict.