Empowering the Youth of Balochistan
The only panacea for all the ills of the province
Former US President Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote that democracy is “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” is considered the true spirit of this system. However, achieving the goal of social harmony, economic prosperity, political stability and peace will remain a dream unfulfilled without the active role of the youth of the country for which the slogan of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) “by youth, with youth, for youth” is no less than a guiding principle. This plays a key role in the empowerment of the youth of a country. It is because the countries that are blessed with abundant human resources in the form of youth and have tailored their policies according to the above-mentioned Unesco guidelines are the ones that will lead the world in the coming years.
Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world a significant portion of whose population consists of youth. Although everyone acknowledges this fact, we often come across varying statistics and statements regarding the number of youth and their proportion in the population of a country. They are very easily stated to be half the country’s population or their headcount numbers are fudged by defining the age groups they fall in differently. And this is often seen happening at forums where the making of such a mistake cannot be expected. In this regard, the internationally recognized definitions help us in determining the actual youth population. We find that there are two age groups the people falling in which are recognized as a youth; one has been given by the United Nations while the other by the Commonwealth of Nations.
The figures that the 2017 census has brought to the fore regarding the youth population of Pakistan suggest that those falling in the age bracket of 15-29 years – the Commonwealth parameter – account for around 27% of the country’s total population. Pakistan officially considers the Commonwealth age group, i.e. 15-29 years, as the youth. On the other hand, the United Nations counts people between the ages of 15 and 24 years as a youth. According to this parameter, 19% of the country’s population consists of youth.
As much as 25.4% of the population of Balochistan, geographically the largest province of Pakistan consists of youth. In other words, every fourth person in the province is between the ages of 15 and 29 years. Moreover, 5.6% of Pakistan’s total youth population lives in Balochistan Around 52% of the youth population of the province, which is already way behind other provinces of the country in terms of development, consists of males and 48% of females. In addition, 70% of Balochistan’s youth live in rural areas and 30% in urban centres. Rampant social inequalities, unrelenting terrorism, acute energy crisis, an abysmal situation of human rights, lack of career counselling, scant employment opportunities and the uncertainty in this regard, lack of measures to bring the youth of the province into the national stream and disregard of the opinion of the youth are some significant factors that impeded the empowerment of the youth.
Educated youth are considered an asset to every nation as they promote development and growth. But, do you know that as many as 51% of the youth of Balochistan are illiterate – the second highest ratio in Pakistan, after FATA. Even more perturbing is the fact that around 40% of young men in the province are illiterate – the highest ratio in the country. On the other hand, as much as 62.5% of the young women of Balochistan don’t know reading and writing – the second highest ratio in the country, after FATA. When half of the youth of your country is groping in the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy, how can you achieve the coveted goals of social harmony, economic prosperity, political stability and peace?
One of the biggest causes behind the agony Balochistan is currently passing through is, perhaps, the fact that a major chunk of the youth of the province is deprived of education. But, it doesn’t end here. In today’s world of cut-throat competition, only modern higher education and consummate technical skills can help you advance. That is why experts believe that education and training the youth is a prerequisite to help them enter the job market with ease.
The situation of Balochistan in this regard, per the results of the 2017 census, is that around 11% of the individuals that have been a part of the education process at any stage in their life have not even passed primary, 18.6% have got education up to primary level, 22.4% have passed middle and 25.5% have passed matriculation exams. But once college-level education begins, the situation begins to deteriorate further; only 11.7% of the province’s youth who get regular education pass intermediate, and six% graduate.
One of the prime reasons behind this gloomy state of affairs is the presence of a limited number of colleges and universities in the province. As per the figures for 2018-19, the total number of universities in Balochistan is only nine while that of inter, degree, commerce and postgraduate colleges is 136. In addition, there are 27 professional colleges, seven cadet colleges, four residential colleges and 30 technical institutes. It means there are only 213 educational institutions for the youth in the province to pursue post-matriculation education. Now, in this situation, it is not difficult to estimate the share and place of the youth of Balochistan in the competitive world.
Besides these grim conditions of education, there are some other bitter facts, e.g. lack of industries in the province, water scarcity–caused contraction of the agriculture sector, lack of provision of business loans to the youth on easy, interest-free terms, a negligible number of opportunities of practical business training, etc. that are leading to soaring unemployment and underemployment in the province and are culminating in the economic problems for the youth. In addition, the young men and women of Balochistan have very limited opportunities to go abroad for work because they lack high-quality education and technical training along modern lines which keeps them away from employment abroad. Due to this reason, employment opportunities for the youth in Balochistan are much scarce as compared to other provinces and most of them are dependent on government jobs. But, adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Balochistan’s quota in federal jobs is only six%. This state of affairs calls for an integrated youth employment strategy to have a tangible impact on youth unemployment in the province.
But, the current situation as per the Sixth Population and Housing Census is that 18% of Balochistan’s population aged between 15 and 29 years are working. Among these are included the non-paid domestic helps – the lowest ratio in Pakistan. On the other hand, 10.2% of the people falling in this age group are currently job-seekers – the highest ratio in the country. If we look at the situation of male youth, only 31.2% of them are currently employed – again the lowest rate in the country – while 17.1% are looking for work, which is the highest rate in the country. The facts regarding women are also very disheartening as only 3.6% of Balochistan’s young women are employed, including as unpaid domestic help, which is the lowest rate in the entire country, while the ratio of women seeking a job is 2.7% – the highest in the country.
Another noteworthy aspect of Balochistan’s youth is that around 43% of them are married. Around 33% of males and 54% of females between the ages of 15 and 29 years and 41.5% of those aged 15 to 24 years have wedded. And all these ratios place Balochistan in second place in the country, after FATA. If we examine the ratio of women in the age group 15-24 years (the most fertile age to become mothers), we find that 18.2% of such women – or every sixth woman in the province – belong to this age group. While women between the ages of 15 and 29 years comprise 25.4% of the total female population of the province. Our social attitudes toward young women, who comprise about a quarter of the province’s population, also call our attention. The provision of fewer opportunities to them and making their marriage an excuse for this has become our practice. Since many capable and talented girls are married off at an early age, it is tantamount to jeopardizing their lives as it harms them not only physically but also leaves scars on their physical and mental health.
Per the Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey 2019, conducted by the National Institute of Population Studies and ICF, the number of maternal deaths in Balochistan is 298 per 100,000 cases, the highest number in the country. One of the prominent reasons behind it is that in the peculiar tribal environment of Balochistan, men generally avoid taking women to male doctors, especially in maternity cases, for getting treatment. This state of affairs builds a strong case for the presence of more and more lady doctors in the province in this particular field of health, but the reality is the opposite of the need. As per the Government of Balochistan’s publication “Development Statistics of Balochistan,” the number of female doctors in the province in 2018-19 was only 538 – only 22% of the total number of doctors in the province. And the principal reason for this shortage is getting the girls married and, thus, not allowing them to practice after studying medicine. And among these 538 practicing lady doctors, most are based in Quetta city while their number in other areas of the province is negligible.
From a socio-cultural perspective also, if our women want to seek medical treatment, they first need the permission of male members of the family because their status is always inferior to men. Their lack of independence and non-participation in the decision-making process has serious consequences on women’s health, especially when they become pregnant. An inferior social status due to cultural norms hinders women’s access to health facilities and it is probably the biggest reason behind the high maternal mortality rate and women’s falling prey to various other diseases.
In addition, owing to prevalent illiteracy, women, especially in rural areas, are generally not familiar with contraceptives and family planning methods which is the main cause of high fertility rates there. Per the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2019-20, the literacy rate among women aged between 15 and 24 years in rural Balochistan is only 31% while at the provincial level, this rate is 40%, which is the lowest among all the provinces of the country. Similarly, the literacy rate among the youth (15-24 years) in the province is only 57% – the lowest rate in the country.
Poverty makes another major reason behind the poor condition of reproductive health facilities and their utilization in Balochistan. In poverty-stricken areas, women are often more affected than men. The rural areas of Balochistan are more in the grip of poverty, where people are hapless as they neither have good employment opportunities nor reasonable wages. On top of that, there are no appropriate health facilities, provision of clean drinking water and proper drainage systems also are as lacking as a snowball in hell. Educational facilities are also inadequate and if there are some, they are mostly substandard. The rights of the rural people of Balochistan are hardly considered when it comes to making available to them even the basic amenities. Irrefutable evidence of this fact can be found in a report “Multi-Dimensional Poverty in Pakistan,” according to which in 2014-15, around 84.6% of the population of rural Balochistan suffered from multi-dimensional poverty, which was the highest ratio among all the provinces of Pakistan. This Multidimensional Poverty Index has been compiled by Oxford University and it has recently released its Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021 which has been compiled on the basis of ten indicators along three parameters of living standards, education and health. According to this modern scale of measuring poverty, 65.32% of the population of Balochistan suffers from non-fulfilment of basic human rights of education, health and quality of life.
A glimpse into the poverty in Balochistan can also be had from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2019-20 which states that the proportion of households suffering from moderate or severe food insecurity in Balochistan is 23.36%, which is the highest in the country. Around 19.6% of the households surveyed in the province described their economic conditions as ‘very bad’ compared to a year before, while 22% termed these ‘bad’. A large number of youths in the province are trapped in low-productivity, temporary and other such jobs that neither meet their expectations nor can they create opportunities for them for achieving better, permanent and high-paying positions. Thus, it is a gigantic task to break the vicious cycle of poverty and the youth cannot play any role in the eradication of this menace. On the other hand, this poverty, whether it is economic or scarcity of facilities, is the main impediment to empowering the youth. And, Balochistan is a victim of this double whammy, although international research says that poverty can be eradicated by empowering the youth.
Youth are important because they are our future. Today, they are our partners; they will be our leaders tomorrow as they will play a key role in decision– and policy-making. Although they are capable of changing the political landscape of any country or region, their participation in the electoral process as representatives as well as voters is of pivotal importance in bringing forth better leadership.
Political parties do take a keen interest in bagging youth votes but they lack any clear policy to bring them into the parliament. Young leadership has been rendered a mere political slogan. Although party manifestos promise to give tickets to the youth in the elections, the reality turns out to be the contrary. Lack of confidence in the abilities of the youth and impeding their participation in affairs, especially in the political process and decision-making, on the part of those in corridors of power drive the youth away from exercising their right to vote. However, an idea of the importance of young voters in Balochistan can be had from the statistics of the Election Commission of Pakistan, according to which around 22% of total registered voters in the province are between 18 and 25 years of age, as of November 4, 2021. It is the second largest proportion of voters in terms of age group in the province, while the first place is the age group of 26 to 35 years, which is 27% of the total registered voters.
Leaders of various political parties are often seen complaining that the youth are not serious about joining the political process. So, involving them is like taking a huge risk that no political party is ready to take. It is due to this reason that out of the 65 members of the current Balochistan Assembly, which was established after the general elections of 2018, only three were 29 years or younger at the time of becoming an MPA.
Lack of adequate education and training facilities as well as of employment opportunities for the youth has many negative implications which we see in the form of street crimes, thefts, kidnapping for ransom, terrorism, sabotage and use and sale of drugs. The process of migration of young people from rural to urban areas and from one country to another, which has been aptly called ‘brain drain’, continues unabated. In the context of Balochistan, we get some glimpses of it from the analysis of the results of the 1998 and 2017 censuses which reveal that in 1998, around 74% of the province’s 15- to 29-year-olds lived in villages, but this ratio has declined to 70% by 2017.
In this situation, there is a pressing need to take immediate, long-term and comprehensive measures to empower the youth at the provincial level, but, unfortunately, the province has not been able to draw up any pragmatic policy. If the neglect of the youth goes on, how will the province become an engine of growth?
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org