The Daily Star in association with ActionAid Bangladesh organised an online discussion titled "Youth perspective on COVID-19 crisis in Bangladesh: Reflection on national budget 2020-21" on June 24, 2020. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
Farah Kabir, Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh and Chair of the session
Community clinics and one-stop centres should be set up for young people to provide COVID-19 related information and services. The government should invest more in the healthcare system, infrastructure, and workers, particularly in young nurses, paramedics and ward boys.
For the efficient use of the increased amount of social safety net budget, the excluded and marginalised groups should be focused on and brought under the social safety net (SSN). Hence, an adequate amount of SSN must be allocated for females, differently abled people, Dalits, sex workers, cleaners, transgender community, adibashi, etc.
In terms of social issues, child marriage is rampant across the country and has caused many young girls to drop out of education, become mothers at an early age and forgo their contributions to the country and their development. The pandemic has harmed these girls and young mothers in multiple aspects of their wellbeing. We must work on improving their health and provide them with psycho-social support. Policies and interventions by the government at all levels should include them in regard to skills development and reskilling programmes.
Considering the relevance of the global markets, reviving the micro economy of the country is important. An enabling environment should be created for young people so that they can pursue economic activities and have a livelihood.
On the other hand, young people around Bangladesh should take up accountability initiatives with respect to services provided by various agencies and institutions at the local and national levels. Space should be created for young people to harness their leadership skills and involve them in development interventions, including the opportunity to contribute to the development of the local and national budget. Such engagement of young people should always be in the arena of research and knowledge building. Finally, we all should disseminate positive messages and carry out campaigns to prompt positive change and challenge the trend of moral degradation.
Nazmul Ahsan, Manager-Young People, ActionAid Bangladesh
According to the Labour Force Survey 2016-17, the number of working youths, aged 15 to 29, is 41.3 million, making up 31.6 percent of the total labour force. 79.6 percent of all unemployed people are youth. The average rate of unemployment is 4.2 percent, but when the youth are taken into consideration, the rate stands at 10.6 percent. If the NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) population is taken into consideration, the rate is 29.8 percent.
11.69 percent of the total budget has been allocated for the education sector. This is 2.09 percent of the GDP that declined from 2.10 percent allocated last year.
89.2 percent of youth aged 15-29 years works in the informal sector which is worst hit by Covid-19 pandemic. The budget allocation for the Ministry of Industry has declined by eight percent; for the Ministry of Labour and Development, it has declined by 4.6 percent; and the budget for the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment has increased by 9.4 percent. These ministries directly contribute to employment generation.
It is necessary to bring the youth employed in the informal sector under the SSN. This support should be extended to the new graduates. A lot of micro-entrepreneurs are first-time borrowers and hence, the process of stimulus packages needs to be simplified for them to reap the benefits. Lastly, proper monitoring and implementation of the budget is required. It is also essential to have quality data supporting this implementation.
Monower Mostafa, Executive Director, Development Synergy Institute (DSI)
A formal framework should be in place where anyone can participate in the budget formulation process. The local government representatives should be included in this process.
Promotion of online classes amid COVID-19 is contributing to furthering educational gap. Thus, an uninterrupted internet connection must be ensured in rural areas.
Young people must be able to borrow money from banks without collateral, so that they can start their businesses.
Zaiba Tahyya, Founder, Female Empowerment Movement (FEM)
COVID-19 is triggering gender-based violence and with the rise of unemployment rate, the violence will surely increase. The government should identify the issue and deploy emergency responders to help the sufferers. Is there any budget allocation for the safety of women and children, since there is a lack of proper budget in this sector?
Jesmin Akter Jui, Grassroots Activist, Activista Bangladesh
Grassroots youth are facing numerous challenges ranging from child marriage to mental and physical distress. Many young people have lost their sources of income. These must be included in the budget.
Alimuzzaman, Grassroots Activist, Activista Bangladesh
The government should allocate more budget in the education and skill development sector and less in the infrastructure development amid COVID-19 crisis.
Munir Hasan, Head, Youth Programme, Prothom Alo
Students are unable to buy internet regularly for online classes. Therefore, BRTC's social obligation fund can be used to ensure internet access for the marginalised young people in rural areas.
Ejaj Ahmad, Founder and President, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC),
The government can create some educational websites or provide free public internet access, particularly for the youth of our country, since internet is inaccessible in rural areas. Due to COVID-19, we are observing widespread unemployment. We need to create more entrepreneurs and open financing opportunities for the youth. We must also emphasise on developing technological and language skills among our youth since the lack of these skills have held us back in certain sectors.
Sarah Kamal, National President, JCI Bangladesh
Mental health is degrading with the increase in unemployment. This degradation in mental health will lead to increased crime, violation and suicide rate. Besides, newer facilities for youth, such as gymnasiums, sports facilities, cycling tracks, etc., are needed as urbanisation has led to a decrease in open spaces.
Jannatul Mawa, Grassroots Activist, Activista Bangladesh
We must acknowledge the contribution of young women farmers in the national budget.
Kishwar Hashemee, CEO and Co-founder, Kludio
This pandemic has given us the realisation that being physically present at work to prove competency will not be mandatory anymore, even in the global market.
The startups in Bangladesh can potentially contribute around two percent to the country's GDP this year and the coming year. However, most of these startups will have to shut down because they are in dire conditions now. This poses a great risk, especially for the infrastructure that startups have created all these years for implementing Digital Bangladesh. Therefore, we must incentivise and create access to finance for startups.
Ismat Jerin Khan, Managing Director, JERMATZ LTD and Director, SME Foundation
The government, along with other stakeholders, can work together to support the small business so that these small businesses can survive. We can create a link-up policy between small and big entrepreneurs through government support. We must also combine the research sector with the business and the health sectors. We can involve the educated youth who can help to establish the research sector as an industry itself.
Dr Ananya Raihan, Executive Chairperson, Dnet and CEO, Infolady Social Enterprise Limited
The is a need for universalisation of social protection. Due to institutional weaknesses for social protection, the government's fund allocation in different sectors are not being channeled properly.
The private sector alone cannot resolve the current unemployment issue. So, we can create an unemployment benefit scheme nationally.
Mohibul Hassan Chowdhury, MP, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education
Reskilling the graduates based on the current market demand through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) enrolment is necessary.
Structural change in terms of the prerequisition set by the Bangladesh Nursing and Midwifery Council for joining the nursing profession must be redefined since the criteria discourage people from various disciplines to pursue a nursing career.
Dr Selim Raihan, Executive Director, South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) and Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka
The joint budget allocation for TVET and madrasa education should be split. Even though skills development in nursing and paramedics is quite relevant now, there is a market failure in our country in this regard. The government must take significant initiatives for these health-related skills development programmes.
If not long-term, then at least a temporary employment guarantee scheme or targeted employment guarantee scheme should be established. There has been no reflection on this matter in the national budget, but there is still time for incorporating it.
Dr Atiur Rahman, Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka and Former Governor, Bangladesh Bank
The government should immediately start a robust credit guarantee scheme. Women entrepreneurs and the youth should be given the highest priority in this scheme. Until this is set up, Bangladesh Bank can form partnerships with banks and ensure loans reach villagers through MFIs.
Bangladesh Bank should clarify that now is the high time for corporate social responsibility (CSR) from private groups. The Honourable Prime Minister has provided 2500 crore taka to the informal sector. This amount should be increased and provided for longer period.
Nahim Razzaq, MP, Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee, Foreign Affairs and Co-chair, UNYSAB Trustee Board
Twenty-two different ministries are responsible for matters related to the youth of Bangladesh. It is essential that these ministries work towards making dreams a reality for our youths through an inclusive approach and proper policy implementation.
In Bangladesh, however, matters such as mental health, communication and skill development do not receive the required support from the government, leaving them outside the budget allocation programme. Even if we accept new ideas, no effective campaigns accompany them.
We cannot, anymore, be a country which allocates all its focus and resources to one industry.
I do not support the recent increases in taxes for internet users because it is a disincentive to customers, and it does not promote the IT sector in a positive manner.
Ensure universal access to digital devices and internet
Improve the technical and vocational training for the youth. Improvise on language skills as well
Cater to youth's mental health and wellbeing
Establish a temporary or targeted employment guarantee scheme and include it in the national budget
A robust credit guarantee scheme should be immediately set up by the government
Positive imaging and rebranding of the nursing profession are needed
Provide graduates with skills training based on the current and upcoming market demands
Involve youth in voluntary work during the COVID- 19 crisis
Allocate more budget for women and youth. Include women farmers in the national budget
Provide financial access and other benefits to help startups survive as well as to encourage new startups
Take stronger action against domestic violence