The youth of a country is the driving force of its hopes and dreams. Active participation of youth in workforce is crucial for socioeconomic development. But worryingly, a large portion of Bangladesh’s young population is inactive now. According to International Labor Organization’s “Decent Work Decade 2006-2015: Asia-Pacific and the Arab States” report, around 40 percent of youth in Bangladesh is economically inactive. And in this global ranking titled NEET (not in employment, education or training), Bangladesh fared only better than Maldives and Yemen, where the youth inactivity rates are 56 percent and 48 percent respectively.
The ILO report says around 40 percent of the young people aged between 15 and 24 years in Bangladesh today are neither in education, nor in employment and training. Going by the estimate of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the actual number of such youth could be around 11.6 million given the fact that at present there are a total of 29 million young Bangladeshis belonging to that age group.
Bangladesh can boast of having a large number of youths, which a number of UN agencies termed as the country’s demographic dividend. There are many populous countries in the world, which do not have such opportunity. But before we can reap the benefit of this added advantage, we have to provide our youth with necessary skills. Take China as an example. The over-populated country has become the world’s biggest economic power by developing skills of its booming young population.
However, our politicians and policymakers often optimistically talk about achieving a robust economic growth driven by demographic dividend as if the benefits are imminent and within grasp. But the road to that future is neither paved with roses nor is the success destined. Data from the British publication Economist's intelligence unit shows that 47 percent of graduates in Bangladesh are jobless. This is the highest unemployment figure in South Asia, next only to Afghanistan. So, the biggest challenge Bangladesh faces today is how to turn its growing population into human resources. If we cannot harness our young population with necessary skills, our demographic dividend will turn into a demographic disaster.
The inactive youths not only are an economic waste, but they also pose various social risks. Many of them may get spoiled, while some others may fall prey to evil influences of drugs, violence and other antisocial activities. Moreover, militant organizations are there to capitalize on the vulnerable conditions of the unemployed youth. With few jobs available, joining militancy may look like an easy option for this unproductive youth. Taking all this negative factors into account, the state must not take lightly this colossal waste of merit and youth. The issue of youth employment, education and training is now attracting renewed attention as one of the eight Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The UN promotes ‘decent work for all’. Bangladesh has endorsed the global goals and incorporated them into its national development agenda.
Activation of the youth requires investment in education and training, and economic development. If we cannot grow as a robust economy, we will not be able to provide enough jobs for the young people. On the other hand, if we cannot put our youth on the right track, the economy will not grow at the desired pace. So, a lot of things depend on harnessing the potential of youths. But the plight of the millions of unemployed youths across the country hardly moves our political parties. The kind of politics we have today ensures that we suffocate the talents of an entire generation. Politicians are wasting their time squabbling about the past and relentlessly arguing who is good and who is evil. How will the youth benefit from their nonstop bickering?
Moreover, whichever party forms government scrambles for whatever little resources we have, instead of making the pie bigger. Should not the politicians set aside their differences and make all-out efforts to make the country richer so that every one of us can find decent work and lead a decent life?