NEAR the end of its tenure, the Sindh government announced a new youth policy. It has many outputs, including creating a youth commission, information system for documenting youth, placement bureaus, incubation centres at universities, assistance in skill development, options in seeking financial assistance for entrepreneurship and more. It also promises a possible revival of student unions. With scant time left for the present government to implement it, many vital matters require an objective appraisal.
Fifty-two per cent of Sindh is urban; a sizeable number constitutes the young. For obvious reasons, they have very different needs compared to other demographics. Sindh’s youth rightfully demand opportunities for their education, health, personal development, recreation and (above all) a prosperous future. Yet it is disappointing to observe, as of late, that progress in each sector related to youth affairs has declined sharply.
Universal quality education is the foremost need. There are no more than 60 institutes of higher learning in Sindh; thus, a mere 5pc of youth have a chance at enrolment. Even within this narrow opening, the guarantee of a ‘quality education’ is limited. Institutional infrastructure for technical and vocational training is also subpar; while there is an overseeing authority, it has done little to overhaul moth-eaten training centres.
Youth is a resource that we have squandered.
Many years ago, some polytechnics were established with help from developed countries to not only set them up but to also send senior staff to manage them for a while. Some of these foreign managers were killed and not replaced for obvious reasons. General performance has declined ever since. With improved law and order conditions, European countries may now be interested in extending help — should the relevant government departments make appropriate preparations to effectively acquire it.
Sindh has more than 10 million young women. They are among the most deprived and vulnerable of its constituencies, suffering from lower literacy rates, growing intolerance, shrinking safe spaces, reduction in social status by design, malnourishment and wilful neglect of essential healthcare, and governmental impotence in ensuring their rights — even to live. Alleging ‘morality’, reactionaries have conjured many taboos to enslave women in Sindh. Despite hypocritical claims to the contrary, women are suffocating in this political and social environment.
Many of Sindh’s youth are affected by abject poverty, and held back by a lack of social mobility driven by low productivity, and absence of resources, support services, and monetary and knowledge capital. This cycle of poverty generates feelings of helplessness that, exacerbated by materialism and hyper-marketing, lead to immense frustration and dire outcomes. As they lose faith in a system that cannot meet their basic needs, social anarchy intensifies, leading to antisocial behaviours, crime and extremism.
It is also a major loss of talent, which most young people inherently possess. Our government announces job-creating programmes, but such an approach has severe limits of scale and reach. Instead, concerted attempts are needed to channel human and capital input, create enabling environments, remove barriers to access, reduce regional disparities, counter corruption (to restore public trust), and sustain law and order.
Youth is a resource, which this country is substantially endowed with. Many countries have taken effective measures to manage problems faced by this vibrant constituency, and have come up with simple but far-reaching strategies. For example, Cambodia launched a volunteer service to help rural youth increase food productivity by learning appropriate agricultural techniques. Many other countries have followed similar approaches.
To ensure early productivity, they are provided multiple choices to acquire skills while in school. Technical and vocational education in relevant trades, apprenticeship programmes, small-scale entrepreneurial mentorships, consolidation of work opportunities in informal sectors, incentives to prevent dislocation from hometowns/settlements, gender-specific policies to support young women, and creation of financial products by banking sectors have all proved useful in helping youth realise their potential and scale the ladder of social mobility.
Unabated development and sustenance of physical and social infrastructure is also vital to help marginalised and disadvantaged youth utilise its capacity for economic productivity. Besides, the youth must be engaged in policy/decision-making in the real sense, and not for cosmetic renderings. If we fail to act now, the resulting social ramifications may be too entrenched for any future leadership to handle in Sindh — or elsewhere in Pakistan.
The writer is a professor and dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences, NED University, Karachi.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018