Pakistan’s un-tapped human gold

Maria Syed

Saturday, September 28, 2013 - Political demography is the study of the size, composition and distribution of population in relation to government and politics. It deals with political effects of population change particularly with regards to demands made upon government. Three factors contribute towards change in age structure of nation’s population: number of children women bear as increase in number of births will produce a younger population; secondly decline in death rate; thirdly the migration rate. Different age groups make different demands on the state. A general increase in population demands more living space, more health facilities etc. A rise in older population in West demands more provision of care by the state, as the elderly are entirely dependent on state assistance due to societal traditions. The youth bulge makes its own set of demands on the government. A rise in young population implies increasing pressure on government to direct funds to education in order to achieve universal literacy. In the long run, this younger population adds up to the available work force i.e. demands for jobs rises. High level of unemployment or underemployment can prove disastrous as it may result in political instability. Though unemployment is not entirely absent in any country, double digit unemployment can be horrendous due to its social and political repercussions. Population structure has a close relation to political change. Any change in population is likely to bring a political change. The concept of optimum population for political order and economic well-being has been discussed by many ancient scholars and philosophers such as some Chinese scholars, Plato, Aristotle, IbnKhaldum etc. During the first half of twentieth century European statesmen and scholars were worried about the socio, economic, and political costs related to population decline. This conviction drove many countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Japan to pursue pro-natalist policies. Pro-natalist policies are based on a philosophy that associates power and prosperity with large population. The problems which were earlier related to decline in population are now seen as a result of population growth. In modern times, population growth has been used to explain problems prevalent in both developed and developing world. The concern is greater for developing world as compared to the developed world. Nearly all the political problems of developing world are related to population growth such as political instability, poverty, crime, violence, aggressive behavior etc. Many scholars now see population growth as a cause of international conflict. However, the relationship between population density and aggressive behaviourat inter-state level has not been proved or disapproved as yet. Jack A. Goldstone, a revolutionary theorist, has demonstrated with help of empirical evidence that many modern revolutionary movements are associated with a rise in younger population. In any society, regardless of social and economic conditions, increase in younger population gives way to increase in social turbulence. Young people are likely to get frustrated at the lack of opportunities made available to them. If the young population increases more rapidly than job opportunities, then number of unemployed is likely to increase. This holds true for the Arab World where a large youth population frustrated with high unemployment rate turned to the streets and brought the authoritarian regimes down. Youth unemployment was 23% on the average in the region. Even after coming into power of new elected governments, unrest continues as youth unemployment persists. It takes carefully devised policies and their implementation to turn the youth bulge into a demographic dividend. If the youth population is turned into a productive working force then the dependency ratio i.e., non-working population as compared to working population decreases. All things remaining equal, the per capita income will increase. Azerbaijan is one country that has taken a number of measures to cater the youth and develop its human capital. It is diligently pursuing its vision of education, development and good citizenship. Azeri government believes that education is the best investment. With the rise in oil revenues, education spending by the government has increased over 6.9 times over the years. The government as part of the human development scheme gives state scholarships for foreign universitiesto Azeri youth. These students are sent to top universities of the world. They are required to come back and serve the nation. The number of students sent abroad on state scholarship has increased 2.6 times as the funding has increased 70 percent from 20 million to 34 million. The government has also created 1.2 million new jobs. Azerbaijan proudly boasts that it has converted its black gold into human gold. The pride is well-deserved. Azerbaijan is a young country and what it has achieved in terms of human development is phenomenal. On human development index, Azerbaijan was ranked as 76th in 2011 thus joining the ‘high human development’ group of states. Pakistan is experiencing a huge youth bulge. As much as 63% of the population is under the age of 25.The literacy rate in Pakistan for ages between 15 and 24 stands at dismal rate of 53%.If left untended, the youth population in Pakistan will turn into a demographic bomb instead of a demographic dividend. So what should be done to defuse the ticking demographic bomb and make them contribute towards society and economy? Any country must successfully exploit its comparative advantage as determined by its endowment structure. In case of Pakistan, the comparative advantage lies in a large population that can be transformed into a work force. The right way of tackling the youth bulge is to turn the youth into a productive work force. This requires providing them with opportunities (education and skills) and enhancing their capabilities. There is a need to transform the education system to societal needs. At the same time creating demand for the young work force is achieved through dynamic changes in the economic structure. There is absorption of work force from the agriculture sector into manufacturing sector and eventually into the services sector; in other words from lower productivity sectors to higher productivity sectors. —The writer is a researcher at IPRI.

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