India is a country with an abundant young population and such demographic momentum creates a lot of opportunities in development segments. However, there are significant problems that are associated with this which are needed to ascertain with policy nudges. In this regard, The State of Population Development – #PopulationAndDevelopment, #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), #IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized #WebPolicyTalk on Young and Restless in New India: Hopes and Aspirations and a Reality Check on May 11, 2022.
The session was started by the moderator of the event, Mr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg, Germany and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists for the event were Dr A. L. Sharada Director at Population First, Mumbai; Anandamayee Singh, Youth Engagement Officer, UNICEF YuWaah; Neha Buch, Advisory Board Member and ex-CEO, Pravah; Senior Consultant, Commutiny – The Youth Collective; and Dr Nilesh Deshpande, National Technical Specialist- Adolescent & Youth, UNFPA, New Delhi.
Mr Devender Singh had focused on facts that truly reflected the relevance of the young population in India. India is a young country, with 365 million young people in the age group of 10-24 years (2011 census) and young people comprising 35% of the population which represents a unique demographic opportunity. By the end of 2030, India will have a working population of 962 million, the largest in the world. NITI Aayog in its Vision & Action Agenda, 2020 has underlined the importance of India having once in a lifetime opportunity for a demographic dividend. But having only a large number isn’t sufficient. We need a healthy and well-nourished population with an appropriately educated and skilled and to have access to opportunities for growth and productive engagement in work as well as in public life. Unfortunately, despite progress, there are still vulnerable and covid-19 has further worsened the situation.
Mr Singh has pointed out several policy instruments targeting empowering the youth of the country to achieve their full potential which include: National Youth Policy 2014 and Right To Education Act, 2010, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Child Labour Act, 1986 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. However, the widespread level of inequality and poverty hampered the potential of the policies. The quality of education both at the school level and in higher education is also another area of concern. Only 2.3% of the workforce had some kind of formal training. A large number of students are dropping out- girls, due to household chores and boys, due to compulsion to earn. Further, the poor mental health of the youth leads to self-harm and violence consequently, increasing mortality rates in this age group. There are fragmented schemes and a lack of an overseeing body to look upon the issues.
Ms Neha Buch briefly discussed the challenges faced by young people including issues of Mental and reproductive health. Ms Neha mentioned that the biggest challenge faced by young people is that they are moving and changing jobs. Despite an increase in the working-age population in 2030, the share of the young population in the country will decline and the demographic dividend tends to narrow down. With the covid era, we came to know that the digital divide is amid concern to be resolved. According to a Computer Science and Engineering Society (CSES) survey, 45% of young people consider unemployment as the biggest hurdle. Hence, there is a need to increase dividends not only in economic terms but also in terms of social and other determinants. Enhancement of capacity building and data equity are other important blocks. Our young people are able to have agency and leadership to have equal seats with other people.
Further, Ms Anandmayee Singh reiterated that “one size fits all” is not approachable as there are multiple barriers. She has given an example where young people from the Dalit community are facing pressure from their families along with being forced to get married; other examples are associated with ideas. There might be various programs but sometimes it is inaccessible to many people. Hence, it is important to keep a flexible and holistic approach to solutions to address the restlessness among young people. We should ensure an enabling environment for young people and must include their contribution by bringing them to the decision-making table. And we must include the perspective of the young population to realities to support them and listen to them consistently to create an adaptable environment.
Dr A.L. Sharada had briefly pointed out the importance of the right content to be available for young people as around 20% of people join social media groups just to learn new things. Further, through the survey, she emphasized the engagement of youngsters on social media where around 80% of youngsters use WhatsApp and Instagram. An average of 2-3 hours are spent on social media by boys where 40% of them discuss sports, and less than 20% of chats are related to science and other books. She further reiterated the virtual world of chats on sexism where close to 15% of boys were comfortable with chats riddled with sexism and sexual violence, and three out of four boys never took part in such chats; nearly, 11% are silent spectators. 90% of boys felt that it was not okay to abuse women, which is definitely a good thing.
She has further splendidly explained how the pandemic and aspirations of adolescents are affected. Survey shows that during the lockdown, 61% of girls continued their studies and more than half of the girls were troubled with continued lockdown and missed going to school. However, there’s also a situation in which of the 28 girls thought that their parents weren’t capable of supporting their studies, 14 of them primarily believe it is due to the unemployment of the breadwinner of the family and three-fourth of girls want to be financially independent. Lack of mobility was termed as the biggest negative impact which leads to an increase in mental health issues. Girls had faced various problems such as the availability of sanitary napkins and Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) tablets, gender biases in food distributions and loss of jobs. Dr Sharada supported Ms Anandmayee when she stated that the “one size fits all approach won’t work.”
Dr Nilesh Deshpande had mentioned the reasons for restlessness stating a story he experienced. The main reason for restlessness among young aspirants they face is due to inequity in access to resources albeit information, money or healthcare. He further focused that the restlessness among young people can be combated if we are able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as one-third of the targets of SDGs are related to the young population. He mentioned that there is time to cater for the needs of the young population to achieve the SDG targets by 2030. It is the right time for India to harness demographic opportunity and demographic dividend. He had briefly and specifically discussed the steps we need to take in the field of education, sustainable growth, diversities and disparities, gender equality, hygiene and gender-based violence over seven years when we reach 2030.
Mr Devender Singh thanked the panellists for their valuable input. Ms Neha believes that discontentment is able and important to create a change and that the government is coming up with good policies to work on the participation and engagement of young people. But there are still certain things we need to look upon: firstly, in India, things operate in a certain mindset of patriarchy and this behavioural change has to be operationalised with institutions working for the young people as we can’t expect immediate behavioural change without any external support that can showcase how it looks like. Secondly, we need to look at things in cross-patterns. This ability to go across sectors is extremely important. Also, there must be an optimal use of resources while integrating across various institutions. Thirdly, we need to have a good civil society-government partnership so that we are able to maximize reach in terms of quantitative and qualitative access.
Further, Mr Devendra Singh questioned Ms Anandmayee over the use of the young population of India by the private sector to enhance productivity and profit. Is it what we expect from the private sector? Ms Anandmayee focused on the scope that the private sector can create in terms of collaboration with young people in monetary resources, mentorships, work environment and techniques. They must understand what young people need and must work diligently. He along with Dr Sharada discussed the outcomes of social media over the attributes affecting the young population. Dr Sharada believes that we are not concerned with social media and the content it provides several times. The space to talk about these issues is really missing and so, we must have to create these spaces in collaboration with institutes, schools and colleges. We need to have more open conversations and give them reliable and good social media alternatives and campaigns to engage them in good ways. The need for good content is a must for the formation of a hub of students who are seeking learning and knowledge.
With the last question, Mr Devender Singh called Dr Deshpande to add his views on the achievability of SDGs and issues engaged with adolescent Indian people which might be not considered. Dr Deshpande thought that when it comes to health, governments are majorly concerned with children, women and the old age population; so, the young and adolescent population is generally considered healthy but over the years, institutions focused on the health of adolescent Indian people. Various ministries are now collaborating but there is still a need for functional collaboration at various levels. The United Nations agencies are also collaborating and working for the young and marginalized young population. Dr Deshpande is quite affirmed that India is able to achieve around 90 SDGs sub-goals if we work more appropriately.
Ms Neha emphasized having a vision where we are not looking at young people as energy to be used and as a future leaders but how we look at them as an investment which is going to pay out today as well as in future. They are not only active citizens who can take responsibility by having a job and contributing to the GDP, but also take charge of their own community and hence, we need to work holistically. We must have a framework with a set of values. Mr Devender rightly supported the panellists and ended the session with a vote of thanks.
Acknowledgement: Priya Suman is a research intern at IMPRI.