BANGLADESH has a fairly large young population with 34 per cent aged 15 and younger. More than 65 per cent of the population is of working age, between 15 and 64, which offers an opportunity of accelerated economic growth, which is called the demographic dividend. Planners and economists say that demographic dividend benefits are not guaranteed; they, rather, require policy supports. A research of ActionAid and the Institute of Informatics and Development also says that budgetary allocation to attend to the needs of the youth is inadequate and consequences of under-investment might turn the country’s first demographic dividend into a nightmare. While the 22 ministries are involved in different processes for youth development, budgetary allocations for the ministries in the 2018 financial year were Tk 1.66 trillion, which later declined in the revised budget by 21.16 per cent. The government should, therefore, sincerely consider the recommendation for an increase in the budgetary allocation for youth education to 10 per cent of the gross domestic product from the existing 5 per cent. The government’s development policy generally is not youth-friendly. The political party in power has an economic model that is strictly focused on large infrastructural development than a balanced socio-economic model in which economic growth evenly benefits the entire population. The celebrated economic growth has failed to generate adequate economic opportunity for the youth and enhance labour-force participation. Of the total 63.5 million labour force, as to the latest Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics labour force survey says, 2.7 million are unemployed, which increased considerably from 2.6 million in 2010. The proportion of jobs in the formal and informal sectors did not grow keeping pace with the growth of population. There is an apparent gender gap in labour force participation, employment rate, wages and economic opportunities for women in Bangladesh. Only 36.3 per cent of women participate in the labour force compared with 80.5 per cent of men. There is a surprising rural-urban divide in employment generation as 1.8 million unemployed people live in rural areas compared with 8,66,000 living in urban area. In terms of social development, the government has very little to offer for the youth. The alarming rise in suicide among young students speaks of this problem. There is inadequate playground or other similar public initiatives to facilitate psycho-social development of the youth.
The government, under the circumstances, needs to invest in a number of areas and make policy commitments to systematically manage the working-age population for economic output. The development planning should focus on addressing the unemployment rate, gender gap in labour force participation and rural-urban divide in employment generation to reap economic benefits of the demographic dividend. A large unemployed young population could otherwise turn the economic potential into a development challenge.
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