Belonging to the age-group of 15-30 years, the youths constitute around one-third of Bangladesh's total population. The youths are a strategic segment of the country's population and organised youths can bring about critical changes to society and economy.
Historically, youths in Bangladesh have acted as a great catalytic force in effecting progressive social and political changes and outcomes. Issues confronting the youths, their welfare and the need to provide them with guidance have therefore been among the priority areas of concern for the state and the government.
The youth-dependency ratio in the country is currently estimated to be 44.9 per cent. Being the most energetic, creative, dynamic and innovative segment of the labour force, promotion of youth employment is critically important for developing countries like Bangladesh. Sustained economic progress can be achieved by utilising the potentials of the youth force by imparting training on vocational skills and by inculcating positive moral values and attitudes amongst them. Against this backdrop, the Government of Bangladesh set up a new ministry known as the Ministry of Youth Development in December 1978. Later, this ministry was merged with the Ministry of Sports. The Department of Youth Development was established in December 1980 and started functioning in March 1981.
Youths who are underemployed or unemployed but are trainable for gainful employment come under the purview of youth development. The total number of youths in the country is now estimated to be over 50 million. The unemployed youths are handicapped with poverty, lack of adequate skill and training, and as a result, most of them remain outside the mainstream of development paradigm. Transformation of this youth force into a dynamic and sustainable human resource for proper utilisation in the development process is an essential but enormous task for the government.
Concerned about the problem of youth unemployment, the Government of Bangladesh has been implementing a number of skill training and credit programmes to make the youths prepared for self-employment. While the programmes implemented by the Department of Youth Development cater to youths alone, programmes implemented by other agencies as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are open for all. The Department of Youth Development is engaged in creating an enabling environment for ensuring proactive involvement of the youth in the development process by implementing a number of programmes for organising the youths, motivating them, improving their state of education and skill, providing micro-credit and other facilities to solve unemployment and other related problems.
REVIEW OF PAST PERFORMANCE: The First Five Year Plan of Bangladesh (1973-78) followed an integrated approach for the development of the youth. The Plan pursued some specific programmes for providing social welfare services to the youths like 'youth hostels' and 'youth welfare centres'.
Separate youth programmes at government level started for the first time in 1979 during the Two Year Plan period (1978-80). The physical target set for the two-year plan was to train 42,255 unemployed youths, of which 36,200 were actually trained. During the Second Five Year Plan (1980-85), an amount of Tk 260 million was allocated for youth development programmes, out of which Tk 196 million was utilised. Approximately 42,000 unemployed youths received training in different vocations and trades during this period and 2,999 youths took up self-employment projects.
In the Third Five Year Plan (1985-90), an amount of Tk 170 million was allocated for youth development programmes of the government. The programmes undertaken during this period were basically a continuation of previous training activities. However, a new project titled 'Thana Resource Development and Employment Project (TRDEP) aiming at poverty alleviation of the youth through self-employment was included in July 1988 outside the Third Five Year Plan (TFYP) project-portfolio. The physical target fixed for the TFYP was to train 43,935 unemployed youths in different trades, out of which 42,937 unemployed youths were trained up to June 1990.
The Fourth Five Year Plan (1990-95) envisaged programmes for the youths for self-employment promotion, poverty alleviation, skill development training, and community development through voluntary youth organisations. An amount of Tk 1600.61 million was allocated through Annual Development Programmes for implementation of these activities. The physical target set for the plan period plus 1995-96 was to train 3,58,701 youths in different trades, out of which 3,04,388 were actually trained. Expansion of micro-credit facility among the trained youths was an important feature of youth development during this period. Credit disbursed during the plan period (1990-95) was Tk 306.90 million.
The 'Thana Resource Development and Employment Project' (TRDEP) was extended to 32 thanas during the period with the assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB). The total number of target beneficiaries was 192,000 and all of them were brought under the micro-credit network. Encouraged by the success of poverty alleviation programme of TRDEP, 'Family Based Employment Programme' was undertaken in 50 selected thanas with Tk 1250 million as credit fund during the fourth five year plan period. Youth Training Centres on residential basis were expanded from six to 10 districts to train the rural youths in livestock, fishery and tree plantation, and also to motivate them to get involved in different socio-economic activities including literacy, primary healthcare, family welfare, environmental improvement, resource conservation, etc. Besides these, three Zonal Resource Training Centres were established at three divisional headquarters to train landless rural beneficiaries in different socio-economic pursuits. Youth activities were expanded from 50 thanas in 31 districts to 230 thanas in 64 districts during the period. A total of Tk 800 million was allocated for youth development programmes during 1990-95. Against this, an amount of Tk 722.55 million (at 1989-90 prices) was actually spent.
Youth development programmes were expanded to 470 upazilas from the previous 230 upazilas during the Fifth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) period. The major objectives of the Youth Development Programmes of the government during this period were to encourage the youth for gainful self-employment through motivation, skill training, micro-credit and other necessary input support, and expand the facilities for improving working skills through suitable training in technical, vocational and professional fields. New programmes taken up during this plan period included: Poverty alleviation programme; Skill development and training programme; Self-employment promotion for the trained youths; Community development programme through voluntary youth organisations; Involvement of college/university students/educated youths in self-employment/national social service; and Population cum family welfare programmes through youth clubs.
PRESENT STATUS: The goals and objectives of youth development during the current Seventh Five Year Plan (2016-2020) include creation of productive employment opportunities through transforming youths into human resources; organising the youths through voluntary organisations and motivating them to take part in community development for revitalising the rural economy; involving the youths in socio-economic activities like disaster management, primary healthcare, environmental up-gradation, resource conservation and awareness-building against anti-social activities and drug abuse etc.; and empowering the youths by providing life-skills and skill development training for ensuring their participation in decision making processes.
Youth development strategies during the current plan period include: improving the linkage between training and jobs market, and strengthening the institutional capacity and infrastructures. The targets include providing training to 19,25,150 youths, out of which 5,96,000 would be self-employed.
The Department of Youth Development under the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports has been assigned the task of transforming the disorganised and unproductive youths into a disciplined and productive workforce. Between 1981 and 2017, it has trained about 5.2 million youths in different trades, and about 2.0 million among them have become self-employed. It has launched trade-oriented entrepreneurship training programme across the country in recent times for the self-employed youths who have the potential to become young entrepreneurs. The 'National Service' programme is also being implemented by the department with the objective of generating employment opportunities for the country's educated youths.
The department has 64 non-residential and 58 residential training centres at the district headquarters, five regional human resource development centres and one central human resource development centre. Besides, the 'Sheikh Hasina National Youth Centre' at Savar is being groomed as a 'centre of excellence' and a vibrant national institute for human resource development. Training is being provided now to unemployed youths in 64 districts of the country through these training centres, with a focus on application of information technology, entrepreneurship and management. All these are likely to have a positive impact on the employment prospects of the country's youth population in the foreseeable future.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly and retired Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration.
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