The youth is full of vitality. Young people are working to build a new future around the world. The power and energy of the youth are regulators of the economic and social development of a nation. There is no alternative to the youth's participation in order to ensure the sustainable development of Bangladesh.
The youth plays an important role in implementing, monitoring and reviewing the development agenda as well as holding the government accountable. Through acquiring skills in their respective fields, proper planning and acquiring the necessary knowledge, young people can easily identify issues – like poverty, violence and inequality – in the society by engaging in various development activities in their communities and contributing to their elimination.
For this, we need the participation of the youth in the development process and the inclusion of the development ideas of the youth in the action planning and decision-making process.
How logical is it for the state to plan for the future without knowing what a young person is thinking and how he is thinking? Where young people are the future of the country! Well, the issue of rationality is not being raised here. Let's see if there is any "need" for young people to participate in the decision-making process. But the world leaders, including the United Nations (UN), say "yes." And so, there is International Youth Day.
This day has been celebrated on August 12 for the last twenty years. However, history is a little behind. The young people who participated in the UN World Youth Forum held in Vienna, Austria in 1991 first demanded a day for the youth. In response, the UN World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth was held in Lisbon, Portugal in 1998. A proposal to observe August 12 as International Youth Day was placed. In 1999, the UN General Assembly endorsed the resolution. Since 2000, August 12 has been celebrated as International Youth Day at the initiative of the United Nations.
Let's see how the whole world, including the United Nations, focuses on the youth's participation. The theme of this year's International Youth Day is "Youth Engagement for Global Action." It focuses on the participation of the youth in local and social spheres; participation at the national level in formulating and implementing laws and policies; and, above all, their participation at the international level.
The United Nations says there is no alternative to engaging young people in future action plans and processes to adapt to the changing world situation, especially in the transition during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the current reality, the youth must be prioritised. The security of their education, health and employment needs to be ensured by including the youth in setting the right plans and procedures.
Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country in the world by population. A total 2.11 percent of the world's population lives in Bangladesh. The number of young people is higher in this country. While the number of young people in the world is 120 crore – 16 percent of the total population of the world – the number of this population in Bangladesh is more than five crore six lakh and 70 thousand, which is about one-third of the total population.
The average age of the population is 30.6 years in the world, but due to the large youth population, the average age of the total population of Bangladesh is only 27.1 years. So, the future of Bangladesh will largely depend on these young people.
Young people have a glorious role in every achievement of the origination and subsequent history of Bangladesh. From the anti-British movement to the Language Movement of 1952, the mass uprising of 1969, the great Liberation War of 1971, the mass movement of 1990, the demand for the trials of war criminals, the Quota Reform Movement and the Safe Roads Movement, etc.
So far, the role of the youth has been leading the movement for the realisation of democratic and constitutional rights. Young people are bringing glory to Bangladesh by providing leadership in various internationally challenging fields like sports, mountaineering plus science and technology innovation.
Even in the recent natural calamities, the youth have stood by helpless people by risking their lives. Even during the outbreak of the deadly Covid-19, young people have dedicated themselves to the service of helpless and sick people. These young people were doing all the brave work including providing relief and food to the unemployed, ensuring social distancing and burying dead bodies.
According to the UN definition, the age range of a "youth" is 15 to 24 years. However, according to the National Youth Policy 2017, 18 to 35-years-olds are considered a youth in Bangladesh. So, Bangladesh is currently going through a period of a demographic dividend. In other words, a large portion of the total population of Bangladesh is currently a functioning youth society.
If the youth can become human resources then the dream of a developed Bangladesh will come true with their labour and talent. And if proper planning and management cannot be ensured during this dividend period, then after a few decades, this population will become a burden for the country.
Young people are a valuable resource for any country. National development and progress depend on them. Among manpower or human resources, youth resources are seen as the most energetic, creative, hardworking, active, and valuable. However, their transformation into human resources requires: proper and quality education as well as training opportunities, that health and overall security is ensured, adequate employment as per qualifications, plus encouraging economic and creative endeavors.
The most important thing is to make the youth capable through adequate empowerment to play an active role in all sectors of life. The involvement of youths in various local, national, and international processes is essential for their implementation.
Of the 169 specific goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 20 goals have a direct youth context. In particular, goal four, five and eight clearly prioritise the youth. Goal four ensures inclusive, quality, and lifelong learning opportunities for all; goal five ensures equal rights for women and the empowerment of girls; and goal eight calls for encouraging sustainable, inclusive, and sustainable economic activities for all, ensuring full, productive appropriate employment.
SDG 16 also pledges for a peaceful and inclusive society, justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels for sustainable development. Therefore, well-educated, skilled, and aware youth and their participation along with other stakeholders can play an important role in achieving the SDGs by 2030. The state should, therefore, create a suitable environment for the youth to be able to play an active role as active participants in achieving the SDGs.
However, it is greatly concerning that there is a huge shortage of advanced and quality education, training, employment, healthcare, entertainment, and social and legal security for the youth in Bangladesh. There is also a lack of youth participation in the formulation and implementation of policy strategies at the state and social levels.
Due to the influence of political malpractice, a large portion of the youth is apolitical in the fashion of "I hate politics." A recent study reveals that only 0.29 percent of the members of the National Assembly are less than 30 years of age. The way for the participation of youth in various political and social activities is blocked by various legal and systemic obstacles.
The constitutional right to free speech has been widely violated in recent years, especially in the face of political malfeasance and the arbitrary application of the Digital Security Act. Unsolicited lawsuits and detentions of citizens for expressing their views on various policies, strategies, and state, social, or political issues through social media have had a major impact on the youth. As a result, the participation and expression of youth on various issues at the local and national levels is becoming more limited and narrow.
In order to reduce the weaknesses of the democratic system and to formulate improved and sustainable policies and strategies, opportunities for the direct participation of the youth in constitutional political activities has to be ensured through transparency in political processes. Even subject to negotiation, a certain number of seats can be reserved for those under the age of 30 in the National Parliament.
We need to ensure that young people can exercise their legal right to express their views and protest about any kind of social, political, or economic inconsistency without fear. It also requires the repeal of hindrances creating controversial sections of other similar laws, including the Digital Security Act.
Meanwhile, according to the latest survey of the Bureau of Statistics, the overall unemployment rate in Bangladesh is 4.2 percent, but the youth unemployment rate is more alarming. According to the Department of Youth Development, about two crores and 80 lakh young people are still unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), which is about 11.9 percent.
According to a BIDS study, 33.32 percent or one-third of the youth in the country with secondary to post-graduate degrees are unemployed. In the context of Covid-19, there is a possibility of a further increase in unemployment. According to the ILO, one in six young people worldwide lost their jobs in the pandemic. According to the agency, another 13 million working people are at risk of losing their jobs due to the pandemic – which is even more pronounced in Bangladesh. Young people are at increased risk as their job security is relatively low and their areas of employment are affected by novel coronavirus; so the workplace shrinks.
Therefore, by tackling these crises to adapt to the new normal in the world after Covid-19, we have to create opportunities for the youth to acquire the necessary technical and managerial skills in the interest of building the future of Bangladesh by relying on their talent and labour.
In all public and private sectors, the recruitment process should be free from corruption and equal competition should be ensured on the basis of merit and qualifications. In addition to funding young entrepreneurs, they need to be provided with advice and encouragement and legal assistance. The budget allocation required for the development of young entrepreneurs and the rate of bank loans should be significantly increased and their access to the market should be smoothened.
Above all, in order to achieve sustainable development, it is necessary to ensure the active participation of the young generation in decision making, policy formulation, action planning, and implementation.
Zafar Sadiq works in the media sector and Newazul Moula works in the non-governmental organisation sector.