In 2013, Dr Rashid Amjad wrote a paper for Population Council inquiring why has Pakistan not reaped its demographic dividend, which started some 15-20 years ago?
For those who might need a reminder, the demographic dividend (or bonus) refers to the opportunity created over a period of 40-50 years during which, as a result of reduced proportions of dependent children, the proportion of the population of labour force age increases significantly, resulting in direct and indirect opportunities to increase per capita output.
Much like his peers, who wrote other chapters in the Councils book called Capturing the demographic dividend in Pakistan, Dr Amjads answer to the question dealt with socio-economics. Lack of sustained economic growth, low re-allocation of labour to higher value-added sectors, low levels of education and skills in the labour force were cited as main culprits. Others cited failures in delivering public health services, or restrictive institutional structures as the reasons why Pakistan has been struggling to achieve the demographic bonus.
The book is an interesting read for those who want to know about Pakistans population dynamics, the countrys youth bulge, and the fleeting opportunities to reap demographic dividend. But there is something that seems to missing from the whole discourse: politics, particularly the importance of the role of youth in politics.
This column would like to start from the assumption that we all want our youth to be politically active, informed, and educated enough to choose the best future for themselves. Sadly, however, (though we don have an empirical data to support this) it appears that the political engagement of a handful of those youth segments that are indeed politically active revolves mostly around the he-said-she-said politics. By he-said-she-said politics we mean the slogans, the tantrums, and the drama that absorbs and degrades the mind of millions of youth consumers via talk shows on the TV each day.
Being aware of he-said-she-said politics isn entirely a bad thing. But it seems to be coming at the cost of ignoring the real meat of the politics: policies.
Politicians matter because people want certain policies implemented to improve their present and future. But when the youth is only engaged in he-said-she-said politics at cost of being unaware of the policies that are needed to be taken to turn the dynamic around, then all that political activism will remain ineffective. And so the dreams of reaping the demographic dividend will also remain elusive.
The logic behind this argument is that one cannot expect the dividend to be dropped from the heaven; the dividend will have to be earned by those who need it the most. All those socio-economic problems that the economists highlight – problems that have acted as barriers to reaping the dividend – have to be resolved. And to expect the old guard to resolve it, without any active political engagement of the youth at policy level, is to expect that the same-old-same-old will work.
The youth, especially the university going ones, may be not a pressure group per se, when it comes to policy advocacy. But that doesn mean it shouldn be. If we really want our youth to have an effective say in politics, then we have to move beyond he-said-she-said engagement.
Some of it has already begun with the likes of PIDE, Habib University, Forman Christian College, and LUMS holding open public policy lectures on issues that directly pertain to the society. But more is needed to sensitise the youth on policy matters, and how they can perhaps use their clout – say by way online petitions or even outright peaceful demonstration – to move the government in the right policy direction.
The different players operating in the countrys third sector space would do well to reconsider their positions on direct engagement with the university-going youth. It is true that not all of those operating in the development space may have the luxury to do it; but there are many others who can and who should. Surely, between all the wise heads in the third sector space, there must be a few good workable ideas to engage the youth for policy push.
In his recent opinion piece called Empty Chatter, Dr Idrees Khajawa of PIDE lamented the lack of good economic policy debates on electronic media. Published elsewhere in local media, Dr Khajawas piece echoed the sentiments of nearly all the players in the development community: international donors, researchers, academics, and folks from think tanks and NGOs alike. The media on the other hand laments the lack of ratings for TV shows on economic policies that seriously affect millions of lives at individual level.
To that end, engaging the youth as a long term exercise (especially the university going population) in public policy matters can also potentially help build a market for TV shows on related affairs. We are not saying that it will work from day one; but we are saying that you won know until you try and have had a few failures.
Source: BR research