And are we paying attention?
To capitalize on the demographic dividend of young people in Bangladesh, the government has taken up the National Youth Development Policy. The policy is well-articulated to ensure that the contribution of young people is mainstreamed in development processes.
The policy envisions that young people are engaged in the decision-making structures at the local, national, and international level to enhance their empowerment, creating new opportunities.
This vision creates hope and enthusiasm among young people and the relevant stakeholders to move forward, especially in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the world leaders agreed to accomplish by 2030.
The seventh Five-Year-Plan (FYP) of Bangladesh -- covering the period 2016-2020 -- has developed the contextual plan focusing on the implementation of SDGs while emphasizing on young people.
The seventh FYP states that, in Bangladesh, one-quarter of its 160 million population still lives below the poverty line. The seventh FYP seeks to reduce the poverty rate to 18.6%, and extreme poverty rate to 8.9% by 2020.
Hence, young people can play a critical role to address these challenges and are able to present us with a bright picture of our country in the near future.
The seventh FYP also states around 2 million young people are added to the labour force each year, and they require appropriate skill development opportunities, with an estimate that around 5.5 million will be engaged in self-employment activities. According to the labour force survey 2016-17, a notable share of young people, 29.4%, is not involved in employment, education, and training. It is being widely said that existing mechanisms -- with the public and private sector combined -- do not accommodate all concerns on the quality or quantity of existing skill development opportunities in meeting market demands.
Young people, specifically young women, living in rural areas are the most vulnerable to exclusion from existing facilities.
Recent research by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) reveals that the unemployment rate among young people in Bangladesh increased from 8.7% in 2015-2016 to 10.6% in 2016-17. This is significantly higher than the national average of 4.2%.
Similarly, the research shows more than one-third of the total youth force with tertiary education remained unemployed in 2016-17 and the situation is worse for women and for the young people living in the rural areas.
In 2018, ActionAid Bangladesh carried out quite a few consultations with young people at grassroots to learn about their priorities and perspective in development, to be addressed by government and service providers. During that time, most of them emphasized greater investment in quality education, particularly in skill development initiatives -- how young people are expected to improve their market-oriented skills and engage in decent employment.
Along with that, the government should emphasize on collaborations with private enterprises and business chambers to take skill development initiatives intensified through apprenticeship mechanisms in accordance with the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 and National Education Policy 2010.
Besides that, young people reiterated their demand for engagement in the decision-making structures to contribute to planning and the budgetary process at all levels to make public services more youth and gender-responsive.
They said that it is also important to have an enabling environment for the marginalized youth community and young women, particularly at the rural level, so that they can have access to government facilities.
Young people also focused on more investment in health services so that the local level health service departments such as community clinics and union health centres become equipped to plan and deliver the required services to young women and men. Some of them mentioned about technology-based agricultural production and its transformation.
They expect adequate government initiatives to promote innovation and skills development on ICT at the grassroots level to cope with increasing demands. Lastly, young people spoke about the need for an enabling environment to articulate their voices and engage politically as well as engage in sports and cultural activities.
So, if we are to help unlock the potential of young people, we must listen to their voices and understand their perspectives on development.
We all have a role in this regard which should be respected at every level, from the community to the state.
And it is expected that politicians and the government will design their programs accordingly and take necessary initiatives by giving this issue utmost importance.
Nazmul Ahsan is a Manager at ActionAid Bangladesh.