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Bangladesh has set an ambitious goal to become a middle-income country by 2021—the year it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence. Equally important to achieving the coveted middle income status is making sure that all Bangladeshis share in the accelerated growth required to achieve this goal, particularly the poor. The Government of Bangladesh’s Vision 2021 and the associated Perspective Plan 2010-2021 lay out a series of development targets that must be achieved if Bangladesh wants to transform itself to a middle income country. Among the core targets used to monitor the progress towards this objective is attaining a poverty head-count rate of 14 percent by 2021. Assuming population growth continues to decline at the same rate as during the 2000-2010 period, achieving this poverty target implies lifting approximately 15 million people out of poverty in the next 8 years. Can Bangladesh achieve this target? Not necessarily so. A simple continuation of the policies and programs that have proven successful in delivering steady growth and poverty reduction in the past decade will not be sufficient to achieve the poverty target set for 2021.
Sri Lankan youth is a mass of untapped potential. With 12.7% of the country’s labour force comprised of youth, the importance of skilled and educated youth is definitely a resource for the island’s development. Having a labour force participation rate of a mere 35.2% among the youth, unlocking the potential in the rest would mean opening doors to around 2 million young, energetic, enthusiastic and innovative individuals to enter the job market.
I was privileged to attend a leading school in Sri Lanka with high quality education and adequate infrastructure. This however is not the common school in Sri Lanka. The majority of the youth receive less than adequate education, which I believe is crucial for one’s development.
Needless to say, it is this population that blooms into the world not fully equipped to take it over. With the lack of perspectives and exposure to the “real world,” due to narrow minded parents, peer pressure, family responsibilities, fear and poverty, the most youth restrict themselves to the ‘Doctor, Engineer or Lawyer’ mentality as I would like to call it, since they are believed to be the only professions that would extricate a Sri Lankan from poverty. And, mind you, it is not due to the demands in the labour market in Sri Lanka. These is a perception resulting in a bias for white collar jobs vs. ‘blue collar’ jobs which are in market demand but heavily stereotyped as low class jobs even when the pay is high. Most youth opt to work abroad than in Sri Lanka engaged in jobs labelled as ‘blue collar’ work.
I’m on my way to the 7th South Asia Economic Summit (SAES) in New Delhi, India. The summit* brings together leading analysts, academics, policymakers, the private sector and civil society from across the region and beyond, who meet to suggest solutions to South Asia’s economic issues and learn from each other’s experiences.
This year’s SAES takes place at a very opportune time. Regional cooperation momentum has been on an upswing. The theme of the summit, “Towards South Asian Economic Union” captures the renewed optimism of moving forward on the regional agenda and generating shared prosperity. Apart from that, the SAES is held between November 7 – 8, only two weeks before the 18th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit, where heads of state from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka will meet in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A number of incidents this year have highlighted the challenging circumstances in which girls attend school in developing countries. Nearly 300 adolescent school girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria by the Boko Haram group. Frequent attacks on schools have forced many parents to withdraw girls from education.
Development practitioners and donors are more convinced than ever that increasing opportunities, skills and resources for women and girls will lead to measurable improvements across a wide range of development indicators for all people, irrespective of their gender. The running assumption is that supporting adolescent girls is one of the most effective strategies available to achieve wider developmental outcomes.
The World Bank’s report, Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity launched two weeks ago, highlighted the close relation between female education and child marriage, noting, in particular, that girls with no education were six times more likely to enter into a child marriage compared to girls with high school education in 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages. However, the case of Bangladesh shows that improvements in female education are not a sufficient condition for reducing child marriage among women: two out of every three girls marry before age 18 in spite of a big jump in secondary school enrollment and a sharp decline in fertility rate in the last twenty years.
If the deluge of trend pieces tell us anything, it’s that the millennials are the most fussed over demographic in history. But behind the hype, there is real a tectonic shift. We are now witnessing the largest youth bulge in history. Over half the world’s population is now under thirty, with the majority living in developing and middle-income countries.
A youthful population can be source of creativity, innovation and growth –but only if employed and engaged in their societies. Unfortunately, for much of the world’s young people, reality is very different.
A number of hurdles prevent young people from contributing as productive, socially responsible citizens. As Emma Murphy of Durham University notes, “Poor education limits their skills, poor employment limits their transition to adulthood and political obstacles limit their voice and participation.”
The longer young people are excluded from participating in their economic and political systems, the further we are from realizing the ‘demographic dividend’.
It’s a no-brainer. A youth agenda, focusing on the issues that affect young people, must be a critical piece of any post-2015 framework. Where do we start?