Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2019. Co-author: Usman Dar, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs.

In his inaugural address to the nation on 19th August 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan laid down his vision and priority areas for putting the country on a path of progress. Chief among his concerns has been the betterment and empowerment of Pakistan’s youth — to be at the heart of all national policy and planning processes. The Government fully understands a fundamental reality facing 21st century Pakistan: as the fifth most populous and one of the youngest countries in the world, unless we make our demographic dividend a positive one, we are at risk of leaving more young people further behind and never meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pakistan has the largest generation of young people ever recorded in national history. Sixty-eight per cent of the population is below the age of 30, and 27% are aged between 15-29 years. The country also suffered more from terrorism than almost any other country in the world over the last decade. Unless this two-thirds of the population have real development opportunities, there is an increased risk Pakistan will continue to suffer, rather than benefit, from this dividend. However, the main driver for youth-centric policies lies in the basic principle of providing young Pakistani men and women with the opportunities they deserve to fulfil their aspirations as productive members of society.

The majority of our youth are living in an environment of extreme vulnerability due to socio-economic disparities, educational inequality, and weakened rule of law. As UNDP’s National Human Development Report 2017 points out, youth illiteracy stands at 30%. Most youths do not have access to recreational facilities (libraries, cinemas, parks, etc) with the situation being even worse for young women. Roughly 44% of Pakistan’s total electorate comprises youth. Four million youth attain working age every year. To absorb them into the job market, Pakistan needs to create 4.5 million new jobs over the next five years (0.9 million jobs annually).

These realities raise hard questions for our future, which need to be addressed as a matter of top national priority. Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, in strategic partnership with UNDP, and working with members of the UN Country Team and other partners, the Government is seeking to apply viable solutions that can meet these challenges by transforming the youth bulge into a force multiplier for progressive change.

As a result, the Government is designing innovative strategies for youth’s employability, entrepreneurship, and civic participation. An enhanced focus on fostering jobs, clean and green Pakistan, reviving tourism, reaching people in poverty through the new PM’s new Ehsaas programme, integrating marginalised communities of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (including erstwhile FATA), and providing affordable housing, are some of the Government’s initiatives in which youth are prioritised.

To make policymaking representative and inclusive of youth’s voices, the Prime Minister has constituted a National Youth Council, comprising youth from all four provinces, federal regions and a wide cross-section of society. The Council will serve as a ‘shadow cabinet’, advising the Government on pro-youth policymaking.

The Prime Minister’s Office has also launched a first-ever National Youth Development Framework and the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan: National Youth Development Programme as the Government’s youth-centred national vision and action plan. Underpinned by the UNDP NHDR 2017, both the Framework and the Programme envision three critical investments that Pakistan can and must make for its progress: 1) Quality Education; 2) Gainful Employment; 3) Meaningful Engagement.

With these three ‘Es’ are identified strategic investments in six thematic areas to be executed through collaborative action by the Federal and Provincial Governments under the Programme: 1) Mainstreaming of Marginalised Youth; 2) Economic Empowerment; 3) Civic Engagement; 4) Social Protection; 5) Health & Wellbeing; and 6) Youth-focused Institutional Reforms.

The Government is also planning to launch a first-ever survey-based National Youth Development Index, which will capture data on youth’s socio-economic status and aspirations at the district level, to generate informed and evidence-based policymaking.

The scope of this demographic challenge is too big for any single entity to adequately cover. Recognising that following the 18th constitutional amendment, youth is now a provincial subject to meet this challenge requires coordination and synergies across the centre and provinces. It needs collaborative programming and budgeting that is inclusive and responsive to the needs and contexts of all young people. Ensuring that no young person is left behind requires all stakeholders to work together by pooling resources, leveraging capacities and combining strengths to achieve this objective, that all major political parties included in their 2018 election manifestos.

A successful example of forging federal-provincial and national-global alliances for youth is UNDP’s flagship Youth Empowerment Programme. Guided by NHDR’s three ‘Es’ framework, the programme supports the Government in the implementation of priorities related to youth empowerment, engagement and employment.

The Prime Minister’s Office and UNDP are working together to help create a national ecosystem whereby youth are provided constitutional recognition, social protection, and gainful opportunities through pro-youth legislation leading to a sustainable platform for action. Towards this goal, our shared ambition calls for a political coalition for pro-youth policies and programmes, as well as by leveraging public-private partnerships and global alliances.

The best hope for Pakistan is supporting economically productive, politically responsible and socially integrated youth who espouse the values of merit, equity, volunteerism, and tolerance. Drawing on partnerships, such this with UNDP, the Government of Pakistan is committed to position Pakistan’s youth as Kamyab Jawan (successful youth) — in all spheres of life.

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