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Re: Youth – feeding the future. Addressing the challenges faced by rural youth aged 15 to 17 in preparing for and accessing decent work

Shahzad Hussain
Shahzad HussainBunyad Literacy Community CouncilPakistan

Food insecurity is looming on to developing countries especially of South Asia, where climate change is hijacking the lives of the poor, be it in rural or urban centers, the issue of older children (ages 15-17) is that, they are largely out of school, and have little access to skills training's. Bunyad believes that education & literacy are the best solutions to make a difference in the lives of the rural youth, as education and literacy promote peace in the communities, enhance their skills for social development and prevent them from being involved in conflict, which ultimately leads them to positive thinking and use their energy for constructive work. Buyad’s approach is multi-sectoral, where in—literacy/ education progarmmes are linked up with---livelihood, environment, health & sanitation, and believes in working in partnerships with local communities, Districts, Provincial & Federal Governments and others.

1. Challenges that rural youth face

A. Policy dissonance: more support needed for rural youth

More than 65% population of Pakistan is living in rural areas, and agriculture sector employs about 45% of the labor force, contributing to about 24% of the GDP, but the pace of urbanization is rapid, as the rural youth is not keen to live in rural areas, due to dearth of employment opportunities. Skill developments facilities are mostly in the urban areas, in rural areas are very rare, and where there is an opportunity in rural areas, the approach of implementation has itself a question mark. Though, the programmes for youth are designed, but they mostly benefit to the urban youth not the rural, as the access to the urban youth is easy for government personnel’s, institutions and organizations as compared to the rural youth, and there are also inconsistencies in Government policies. As the consultation workshops and conferences for policy making are mostly held in the big cities, only the academia, experts, and youth from the urban areas are invited, but the major portion of the rural youth is neglected in the consultations. In some cases, if the rural youth is invited to share their experiences, they have not much exposure, silent during the conversation; sometimes the working language of the workshops and conferences creates a major barrier in communicating and expressing the views by the rural youth. The local political leadership in the rural areas, who are the major stakeholders in policy making, have no interaction with the rural youth, the local politicians have interaction only with the heads of the families not the youth, as all the decisions in the rural areas are mostly taken by the heads of the families to support candidates in general and local bodies elections, but the situation in big cities is different, though the youth  under the age of 18 have not the right to cast their votes, but their movements to support the candidates in general and local bodies elections makes a difference during election campaigns, and the political leaders also consider the voice of the urban youth.  

B. Market demand: catering to needs with adequate supply

The current skill development courses are not according to the market demand, and also not futuristic, the females have the opportunities of skill development courses in embroidery & stitching, they are not considered to adopt another occupation, male members also not allow their females to join such a profession which also become a place for male members. More than 40% population of Pakistan is illiterate, mostly are women from rural areas, and has less information of youth skill development programmes, those who work in factories, agriculture field, not know the exact terms and conditions of employment, the employer exploit them specifically in the agriculture field, women are in worst condition, as they have to face the harassment from the agriculture employer and, delay in payments from the factories & stipend from skill development institutions/organizations.

C. Legality: the importance of literacy

Specifically to agriculture, some major issues are; no advance research in agriculture, rural areas have less access to laboratories for testing of soil for better yield, lack of appropriate education & experience and opportunities, in rural areas, those who are engaged in agriculture labour have not written document with their employers especially in agriculture and livestock sectors, they are appointed verbally, in some cases, they are given some advances, for which they are bound to employment, which leads in less chance to change their jobs.  The age 15-17 is the most crucial, as the birth registration of most of the children in Union Council offices is not documented due to illiteracy of their parents, the age for Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) is 18 years, the youth is deprived to make any legal document with their employers, as the CNIC is the most important document to make any agreement between the two parties.  

Not only education & literacy aware the people about their rights but also enforce to rethink about the importance of legal documents. Bunyad has strong linkages with the line departments and try to ensure the Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) of those who are 18 years of age, who are below 18 years, their birth registrations in the Union Councils (local administrative units) concerned are ensured, so that they can get form-B from their respective union councils, form-B is a legal document which is also useful for legal formalities to some extent.  

D. Gender disparity: making full use of Pakistan’s female labour force in agriculture

No country can move out of poverty unless half the populations, the women are given their place in the development process of their country. As more than half our populations live in the rural areas, where deprivation abounds, worse is the condition of women, whom the development process rudely bypassed. Gender disparity is the most critical thing in Pakistan, as misinterpretation of religion and intolerant behaviours poses a threat to women participation in the economy, women do work mostly in agriculture & livestock sectors, but their works are not recognized. In paid activities, mostly women are engaged in agriculture field specifically in cotton picking and labour in vegetables growing fields, but they are engaged without any written agreement, they are paid low wages, sexual harassment by the employers, no proper measures for health safety, long working hours and mental torture are the common issues of women. Rural women have little access to cities, transport is the major concern for them, and also not feasible for them to spend time in traveling for gaining of skill courses for decent work, they have to work in their household and look after their children, the average family is more than 6 in Pakistan, in rural areas, there are an average 8 to 10 children per couple.

2. The role of education and vocational training to help youth engage in agriculture activities

For better livelihood, prior skill and technical education from class 6 to 10 (the age of students in that period is between 10 to 16 years) must be included in the syllabus as an optional subjects. The young girls must be given training in agriculture, livestock sectors parallel to stitching and embroidery. Not only the counseling of the rural youth, not to leave their native villages, but also their training in relevant field must be focused, in the designing of skill development programmes, a specific % for the rural youth must be a part of the programmes so that the programme should not cater only the urban youth. Once the programme is designed for youth, its implementation and finance must be ensured, without consistency of programmes, sustainable development will only be a nightmare.

 Bunyad’s literacy curriculum includes components of Health, Life Skills, Personal Hygiene, Numeracy, and Conflict Resolution in social family settings and functional literacy, and in addition skill development orientations/trainings are also included as value added activity in literacy programmes.

 In addition literacy, Bunyad is also currently implementing another project under a title “Economic Empowerment of Rural Women”, the major components of the project are; basic literacy, household technology, kitchen gardening, livestock keeping, enterprise development & financial management training. The rural youth under Bunyad’s literacy, child rights and livelihood projects are linked up with Public District technical training institutes for their certification in different skills, certification by the public department, ensures their capabilities in technical skills which supports them in getting employment. 3 Mobile Rickshaw Libraries have been introduced by Bunyad, to promote reading habits and life skills among members of the communities especially the youth, these are fully equipped with Information Communication Technology (lap top, multimedia & projector screen) for e-learning, along with conventional printed reading materials. The tasks of the Mobile Rickshaw Libraries are; move in the targeted areas along with books of different fields; children magazines, women empowerment, youth, livestock, agriculture and financial literacy etc., give orientation to youth and other members of the communities through multimedia on women empowerment, youth, kitchen gardening, agriculture and financial literacy to develop their interest in reading, improve their skills and access to information.

3. Effective approaches in overcoming challenges in rural employment

A. Value-added chains: two-track approach for subsistence and income generation

Bunyad implemented child rights & protection and livelihood projects, but kitchen gardening and livestock promotion are the part as a value added activities in Bunyad's education & literacy programmes, which encouraged young women to start Kitchen Gardening, initially to give them a feel of their activity which saw improved nutritional levels in there girls. Lest we forget TB, and malnutrition coupled with stunting, women face a very negative conditioning in their environment, thus Kitchen Gardening is a practical activity to improve their nutrition & give them a skill for the local market. As excess of vegetables are sold by their girls to their neighbors. Bunyad is working to improve the stock of the livestock by improving the milk yield of these animals by artificial insemination, better fodder & more diligence's in improving the lives of the animals. On an average, a buffalo gives 6 kg per day, but with proper management------ it can rise to 10 kg daily.  

 Kitchen Gardening for food security, must be promoted at household level. Government departments, International and Non-Governmental organization should design programmes for training especially women in Kitchen Gardening, agriculture and livestock. Use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) should be promoted, CDs can explain a large number of illiterates, how to work in livestock & vegetable farming, to improve & then forward with entrepreneurship skills.

B. Local partnership: virtuous cycle of comprehensive rural development

Bunyad also has a strong network with its local resources, which not only allows effective implementation of the programmes but also provides a lasting, sustainable solution to the challenges the youths and disadvantaged females face. Through such ties, the local government can become more involved and actively incorporate policy suggestions from the organization’s facilitators and managers, which permits better aligns policy efforts from the field to papers. It also provides empowerment to those who serve in the field, as their efforts are recognized and further supplemented with support of external institutions.

 Bunyad has also developed liaison with academia i-e Departments of Social Work, University of the Punjab and Lahore College for Women University and Gender & Development Studies Department, University of the Punjab. An MOU was signed between University of Agriculture Faisalabad and Bunyad; the salient features of the collaboration/ MOU are; distance learning, short courses for community development especially kitchen gardening, internships of students in Bunyad’s field area, participatory development approaches, training of staff and clients, entrepreneurship start up and applied/ on form research.  The internship of the students of the academia are arranged in Bunyad’s programmes/projects so that the students can acquire hands-on experiences of the issues that the youths face, while participating in the education and development programmes to reach out to their own communities. In return, the students who were beneficiaries of the education programmes provided by Bunyad become teachers and facilitators providing education to the successive students, thereby creating a healthy cycle of education that leads to more education of others and increasing employability of the student.

4. Policies and programmes that can support rural youth

The youth between the ages 15 to 17 years, those who have skill, should also be given a chance of decent work for income generation, as the employers do not give employment opportunities to those who are below the age of 18 years, or they do not make an agreement with them. An amendment may be made in the international and national conventions/policies that if the youths between the ages of 15 to 17 have skill, should be given skill certificate by the competent authority; it should be considered a legal document for employment of youths between the ages 15 to 17. The International community must understand the difference of socio-economic conditions of developed and underdeveloped countries while developing the policies.