Pakistan, a country with youth bulge, has an opportunity of a lifetime to plan a healthy and prosperous future by transforming the youth potential into a driving force of development. Yet this prospect of a demographic dividend must be realised swiftly. “If right investments in young people are not made right away, then the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb,” because a large cohort of frustrated young people would lead to social and political instability. This concern was highlighted by the key speakers at a dialogue session held here in Islamabad.
The interactive dialogue between youngsters and policy makers was jointly organised by Planning Division Government of Pakistan with the support of UNFPA and Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP). Out of the world’s 7 billion, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10 and 24. This is the reason that policymakers throughout the world are exploring ways to make the most of large youthful populations. However, Pakistani youth has traditionally remained a marginalised group, generally isolated from the development process of the country.
“We must invest in health, particularly in good quality family planning services, and in education, especially for young girls, for a better future” suggested Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country Director of Population Council. Highlighting Pakistan’s demographic challenges, Dr. Zeba added that “the country’s population is expected to surpass 200 million by 2018” and only prompt planning to meet the needs of the future generation will determine whether we have a healthy and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities and economic impediment.”
“As the population increases, the needs also increase” and countries where population growth is outpacing economic growth, the need for reproductive health services, especially family planning, becomes vital, advocated Dr. Mumtaz Esker, Director General of Planning & Development Division. Speakers noted that the country has a “high” unmet demand for family planning, which means that women may not be achieving their desired family size, leading to poverty. “Since 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population comprise of youth, the policy makers should interact with youngsters while formulating future plans” said Dr. Esker. Parliamentarians who spoke at the seminar include Ms. Surraya Ameerudin, Ms. Raheela Durrani, Ms. Nusrat Abbasi, Ms. Shazia Tehmas Khan and Khurram Gulfam.
Besides experts and Parliamentarians, a large number of youngsters from private schools and colleges were also part of the discussion. “We have no one to talk to about reproductive health issues,” pointed out Aleem Dad, a student. Since there is no education in schools and parents don’t inform either, which not only causes ambiguity in the minds of youth but also increase the risk the maltreatment of children, said the concerned youngsters.
“Traditionally it is a taboo to discuss sexual health problems, but we must understand that children would learn about it anyway, possibly through internet, so if we lower the curiosity of children, it will surely reduce the risky behaviour among our youth” said Donya Aziz (MNA).
Experts noted that lack of information on sexual and reproductive health can also prove terrible in the context of HIV/AIDS. Afzal Chaudhry, suggested that information portals should be made available for both rural and urban youth equally. Sharing his viewpoint, he said that “the youth members presented at the seminar do not represent even 2 per cent of Pakistani youth” as most of the youngsters, who reside in rural areas do not have access to information, as compared to those handful learning in private institutions.