Youth and the Millennium Development Goals in Pakistan
Author: Dr. Shahbaz Israr Khan
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/24/2011
Research shows that countries having relatively young population structures are at greater risk for civil strife. Moreover, underdeveloped and developing countries in which youth are devoid of representation and basic facilities are at even higher risk. There are 62 countries considered ‘very young’, and Pakistan is among them. According to the US Census Bureau, Pakistan has 30.2% youth (ages 15-29) of its total projected population. In order to make youth a demographic dividend rather than a risk, we need to include youth in the processes, procedures, and strategies of development.
The inclusion of youth in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a critical factor for transforming this dream into a reality. Youth can play a role as advocates to ask governments to pay more attention to achieving MDGs, and they can be instrumental in achieving these goals directly. It is the responsibility of policymakers, youth organizations and other CSO’s to ensure that they include youth in the planning and execution of programmes and projects to pursue the 8 goals and 21 targets of the MDGs.
A few months back, I conducted interviews of student leaders from five different universities in Pakistan. The interviews were designed to gauge the level of awareness among youth regarding the MDGs. Shockingly, out of five student leaders from five different universities, not one of them had heard the term “MDGs”. If youth know nothing about MDGs and their importance, how they can be the advocates and instruments of change? Exclusion of youth in achieving the MDGs is one of the biggest problems in the world at large, and in Pakistan in particular.
The MDGs have been incorporated into the government’s two important macroeconomic frameworks, including the Medium-Term Development Framework (MTDF), which covers a five-year period from 2005-2010 and includes the government’s key planning document on development. The other is the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which is a framework for social and economic policies. To date, however, sufficient progress has only been made on about half of the targeted indicators, while the others lag behind. Pakistan’s progress in achieving the MDGs has been quite slow as compared to the world, and also in comparison to the South Asian region. Between 1980 and 2010, Pakistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) rose by 1.5% annually, from 0.311 in 1980 to 0.490 today, which gives the country a rank of 125 out of 169 countries with comparable data. The HDI of South Asia as a region increased from 0.315 in 1980 to 0.516 today, placing Pakistan below the regional average (HDI represents a push for a broader definition of well-being and provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income).
One of the impediments to achieving the MDGs in Pakistan is the peace and security situation. Pakistan has made itself a security state rather than a welfare state. Pakistan spends 4% of its GDP on military, the same spent by the US, a much richer country indeed. An editorial in the Daily Times said that the government plans to give the military a budgetary increase of 11.7 percent by allocating Rs.495 billion for the defence budget in 2011-12, up from Rs.443 billion in the outgoing year.
In healthcare spending, the countries are very different! As a nation, the US spends 15% of GDP on healthcare (the highest in the world), and of that percentage, the US government itself spends 7% of GDP on healthcare; whereas Pakistani health spending is only 2% as a nation, and dramatically, of that 2%, the government’s contribution is less than one fifth – meaning 0.4% of GDP.
The unemployment rate in Pakistan is increasing by the day. The overall youth unemployment rate is 8.3%, which is higher than the national unemployment rate of 5.5%. The unemployment rate among the age group 10-14 is 8.2%, among age group 15-19 it is 10.1%, and in the age group 20-24 it is 7.8%. These figures are outrageously high and require immediate response. Besides, there is a huge gender gap in the labor force participation. The population living below $1.25 PPP per day is 22.59%. The value of the nation’s Gini co-efficient, measuring the rate of income inequality, is .312. The prevalence of undernourishment among the population is 23%, making Pakistan rank number 125 on the list, surpassing just 44 countries.
According to article 25 A of the constitution, primary education is the constitutional right of the people of Pakistan, and if the government fails to provide primary education, people may take the government to court. Pakistan spent 2.5 percent of its budget on schooling in 2005/2006. It now spends just 1.5 percent in the area that needs it most. This percentage is less than the subsidies given to large enterprises PIA, PEPCO and Pakistan Steel. With this rate of investment, there is no chance that Pakistan will achieve MDG number 2. On the other hand, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh are doing quite well comparatively.
There is a separate Ministry for Women’s Welfare, but progress is too slow to reach the the MDGs by 2015. The gender inequality index of Pakistan is 0.721, which is clear evidence that progress toward this goal is off track.
Other problems include the energy crisis and recent floods in Pakistan. These events have dealt a further blow to the country’s economy. Commensurate to Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism combined with the effects of the natural disasters it experienced in 2010, foreign funding is insufficient to put the country back on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The problem requires an immediate response by the government, including: government commitment, devising of strategies to include youth in programmes and projects to achieve the MDGs, educating the international community to increase financial assistance, and also developing different strategies for self-reliance.
Currently, PRSPII (Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan 2) is a living document, which, if government, along with youth, CSOs and public partners work together properly, may help put Pakistan back on track to achieve its MDGs. This requires collaborative action by Pakistan’s multiple stakeholders.
Bio: Dr. Shahbaz Israr Khan specializes in youth issues and is the recipient of a certificate and grant from UNFPA: Youth Dividend and Youth Action for Change in Youth Advocacy and Millennium Development Goals. He was instrumental in designing the National Youth Advocacy Platform – a premier coalition of youth organizations for integrated youth development in Pakistan. He is currently pursuing his masters degree in Gender & Peace Building at the UN mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica.