The Awami League on Tuesday unveiled its manifesto for the upcoming election titled ‘Somriddhir Ogrojatray Bangladesh’ which roughly translates to ‘Bangladesh on the march towards prosperity’. Apart from the sector-based description of achievements in the last 10 years and future plans, this manifesto also highlights 21 priority areas in the form of special pledges.

One such area is youth. With the slogan ‘Tarunner Shokti, Bangladesher Somriddhi’, the chapter on youth highlights the aim to harness the strength of the youth for the continued prosperity of the country along with ensuring their own overall development. The starting point is the pledge to fully implement the National Youth Policy 2017 through the formulation of a well-thought-out ‘Plan of Action’.

On the administrative arena, the manifesto pledges to form a separate Youth Division under the Ministry of Youth and Sports to bring new dynamism into the most important ministry as far as the youth are concerned. The Awami League has also promised to introduce youth budget every financial year following the success of gender responsive budget which has been being implemented successfully by the Awami League government since 2009. There is also the proposal for forming a ‘Youth Research Centre’ under the ministry for undertaking scientific and sound research into the various needs and aspirations of the youth.

Education, skills development and employment are important issues for the youth and as such have been afforded the due importance in the Awami League manifesto. Emphasis has been laid on improving the quality of education through focusing on technical and vocational education, more research funds in higher education, increased importance of science and technology and the enhanced use of information and communications technology. A ‘Youth Plan’ has been proposed which will ensure cheaper internet and mobile facilities for the youth.

The manifesto has pledged to create more than 15 million jobs in the next five years. To that end, the party plans to extend the coverage of the National Service Programme to all Upazilas (sub-districts). A nationwide integrated database of the employable youth has been planned for making it easier for public and private enterprises to connect with the youth who are looking for employment by meeting the criteria for any given advertised position. The manifesto proposes to set up a ‘Youth Training Centre’ in every Upazila to provide training on various trades. Eventually, the plan is to transform these centres into full-fledged ‘Youth Employment Centres’.

Skills development for employability has been highlighted. Two specific large-scale skills development programmes for the youth have been suggested: The proposed ‘Kormoth’ project envisages providing skills training for the unskilled/semi-skilled youth in labour intensive industries, commerce, and trade. The proposed ‘Shudokkho’ project aims to provide the educated/skilled youth with further grooming through advanced employability skills training, suitable for managerial and semi-managerial positions, which has long been highlighted as an area where the demand far outweighs the human resources supply in Bangladesh.

The party also plans to prioritise youth entrepreneurship. Currently, the Awami League government has started providing up to Tk 200,000 collateral-free soft loans for young entrepreneurs via the Employment Bank. The manifesto pledges to further increase such financial incentives along with other governmental support and facilities for budding entrepreneurs. Additionally, there is a pledge to formulate a ‘Youth Entrepreneurship Policy’.

The manifesto does not simply seek to make the youth employable or tap into their economic potential, but also ensure their overall mental and physical wellbeing. It proposes to set up a ‘Youth Recreation/Entertainment Centre’ in every Upazila which includes facilities for, among others, indoor games, mini cinema, library, multimedia centre, literature and cultural corner, mini theatre etc. A ‘Youth Sports Complex’ has also been suggested for all Zilas (districts).

The manifesto mentions the importance of proper counselling to safeguard the youth from such social risks as terrorism and extremism and drugs. It envisages infusing the youth with Bangladesh’s founding principles as a bulwark to radicalisation. The Awami League manifesto acknowledges that drug addiction should be treated as a mental health issue rather than a law enforcement issue. Hence, there is a proposal to establish at least one drug rehabilitation centre in every district as well as increasing funding for the private treatment and rehabilitation facilities.

To ensure the civic and political empowerment of the youth, the manifesto pledges to involve them in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and incorporate their suggestions and feedback in formulating all medium and long term national development plans. There is also a plan to involve the youth in monitoring the implementation of the National Youth Policy 2017.

More than one-third of the population of Bangladesh falls under the definition of the youth, which is more than 53 million. This means that the country has a demographic dividend in the form of a young population able and willing to work. That power needs to be effectively harnessed for achieving the ambitious plans that the Awami League government envisages for the country, such as the Vision 2041, the aspiration to transform Bangladesh into a developed country free from poverty by the year 2041.

But for that, the youth cannot only be treated as economic vehicles but human beings needing all-round nurturing. The Awami League’s manifesto, which aims for overall development of the youth, including their physical and mental wellbeing, is a step in the right direction towards harnessing their full potential and vibrancy.

Shah Ali Farhadis a lawyer, researcher and political activist. He is currently serving the Centre for Research and Information (CRI) as its Senior Analyst.

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