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Pakistan’s Growing Population — Finding Opportunity In Adversity

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According to National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS), the estimated population of Pakistan is 215.25 million with population growth rate of 1.80 percent in 2020-21 and population density of 270 per Km. The current projections indicate that Pakistan’s population will reach its peak in 2092 of 404.68 million people (World Population Review). With the highest population growth rate in South Asia (around 2.40 percent) this ticking population bomb poses the greatest challenge to Pakistan’s socio-economic development. While at the same time if tackled correctly, Pakistan’s population profile can prove to be instrumental in promoting its social well being and in boosting the economy. But are we focusing on the opportunity that can be gained in this adversity?

The opportunity that rests here is Pakistan’s demographic dividend. The demographic dividend of a country refers to a period which is marked by improved reproductive health, a decline in fertility, and the subsequent shift in population age structure that leads to accelerated economic growth, as there are more people in the workforce and less young dependent population.

Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had and the forecast is that this will continue to increase until at least 2050.The population falling in the age group of 15-59 years is 59 percent, whereas 27 percent is between 15-29 years.(UNDP in Pakistan National Human Development Report: Unleashing the potential of a young Pakistan)

According to United Nations Population Fund “To open the window of opportunity for the demographic dividend, Pakistan needs to reduce fertility and invest in the growing youth “bulge” entering the labour force. If births begin to decline each year, the young dependent population will also decline. This frees up resources to invest in the health, education and economic infrastructure of the country.”

Pakistan has some of the greatest demographic opportunities for development in the world as its growing youth population enters adulthood. However, to achieve the demographic dividend it is pertinent to make investments in the education and skills of Pakistani youth, and harvest the fruits of long-term human capital development.

According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-2021, some head start has been made in this direction with schemes like Kamyab Jawan. Since February 2020 this programme has trained 100,000 youth in market oriented conventional and High-Tech/High-End courses, which will create around one million employment opportunities. It has 14 areas of interventions with the main focus on transforming the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system of the country.

The Kamyab Jawan programme entails 6 important schemes:

  • Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) whereby Rs 465 million were disbursed to unemployed youth
  • Hunermand Pakistan Programme (Skills for all) – a programme that tends to uplift Technical & Vocational Education & Training (TVET) sector in Pakistan, thus offering ample opportunities to youth by harnessing their potential
  • Green Youth Movement Startup Pakistan
  • National Internship
  • Jawan Markaz

COVID-19 has negatively impacted employment and labour productivity, however initiatives like Rozgar Scheme were instrumental in containing adversity of some impacts.

CPEC is yet another avenue of job creation through its Special Economic Zones. Under the auspices of Ehsaas Programme, interest free loans worth Rs 21.4 billion have been disbursed in July-March (FY 2020). This outlines some of the efforts that have been made thus far to wire the economy in a way that it produces quality jobs and opportunities.

At the same time it’s equally important to improve the quality of education, to ensure uniformity in education standards with a focus on school completion. The government should set lower population growth rates as its prime goal with the involvement of clerics and political leaders. The case study of Iran reveals that family planning programs are possible in countries marked by conservative Islam.

Looking outside Pakistan can emulate the Bangladeshi approach and concentrate on the economic empowerment of women who constitute 48.4 percent of the country’s population. With the Refinance and Credit Guarantee Scheme for Women Entrepreneurs, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has enhanced the financing limit for women from Rs 1.5 million to Rs. 5 million.

Meanwhile other South Asian neighbours like India – with 26.62 percent of population within 0-14 year, and 67 percent in the 15-64 age group – is estimated to take over China sooner to become the world’s most populous nation as China’s population growth slows. However, India is struggling with issues like unemployment where the rate of unemployment among 15-19 year olds is 40.92%, 20-24 year olds – 39.23% and 25-29 year olds – 10.03% (The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy). Secondly, there are 134 million people living in poverty. Also, the infrastructure problems impact its residents’ consumption ability, which will delay the entire process. And as India starts ageing, the benefits of the dividend will start to fade.

On the other hand, China has clearly embarked on a new economic model that is based on “knowledge-driven demographic dividend” where the focus is on global digitalisation push that depends lesser on cheap labor and low-end manufacturing and more on high value added services.

So while Pakistan needs to chalk out extensive family planning and reproductive health services, better education and job opportunities (especially for women) to achieve an indigenous and sustainable growth, it equally needs to incorporate exogenous experience of knowledge-driven demographic dividend. It’s only then this demographic dividend can play a pivotal role in the socio-economic reconstruction of the society.

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Naya Daur