UNICEF Bangladesh representative Tomoo Hozumi gave a Power Point presentation on the changing demographic structures of the country and highlighted the challenges involved. He also pointed out the areas where increased investment was required for children so that they would be able to support the aged in future. He said, investing in children in no way could be considered as charity or doing them a favour. This investment has to be made for the future of the country’s development.

In the keynote presentation, Tomoo Hozumi referred to a UNICEF study from the previous year on investing in children as an advance assistance to the elderly and the policy impact of demographic trends and changes. He placed emphasis on children’s initial growth and education as well as on investment in the youth to build up a skilled workforce. The study pointed out that Bangladesh will become an ageing society around 2029 and an aged society around 2047. An ageing society is defined as one where the percentage of people aged 65 years and older accounts for 7 percent or more of the total population. When this percentage doubles (i.e. 14 percent or more), the concerned society is called an aged society. According to demographic projections for 2050, a significantly lower number of young able people will have to care for a considerably higher dependent elderly population.

Discussants at the roundtable pointed to the duration of this demographic window of opportunity which was calculated as the number of years between the time when the percentage of the working-age population (internationally defined as 15 to 64 years of age) vis-a-vis the dependent-age populations (0 to 14 years of age and 65 years and older) starts to increase and the time when the same percentage starts to decline. This is the demographic window of opportunity for a country’s economic development.

Bangladesh has already passed 78 per cent if its demographic window of opportunity as of 2021 which started around 1978 and will start to close around 2033.

Additional secretary of the finance ministry Nazma Mobarek said that allocation in the social safety sector is quite significant in keeping with the government’s limited resources. The government has limited resources.

Director general of the secondary and higher secondary education directorate, Syed Golam Faruk, said the government has never held back from investing in children. But he stressed the need for optimum utilisation of the investments that are being made.

Speaking of the job market situation, executive chairman of the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) Hossain Zillur Rahman said, employers are saying they were not getting skilled persons while the young people are saying they were not getting jobs. We must emerge from this paradox. He expressed concern that the qualitative standard of students was falling during the coronavirus pandemic. He said that there was need to break the perception that technical education was only for the poor.

Country representative of ActionAid Bangladesh, Farah Kabir, said that we have to break away from the concept that we should invest in children so that they would be able to take care of the elderly. Such ideas have made families more eager to have sons in the past. Investment should be seen as a child’s right. The constitution speaks of protecting children and this must be kept in mind when investing in them.

Farah Kabir placed stressed in investing in children who were being married off before 18 years of age, to build them up as future citizens of the country. She also said similarly investment had to be increased for mental health.

ILO country director Tuomo Poutiainen placed emphasis on increasing women’s participation in the informal sector as well as increasing skills through technical education.

UNFPA country representative Asa Britta Torkelsson highlighted various issues including the high rate of child marriage in Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries of the world, the shortage of family planning methods, repression of women and also women and children lagging behind in decision making.

RAPID chairman Professor Abdur Razzak said the coronavirus outbreak had placed much of the country’s achievements at risk. The country was becoming poor before it could become wealthy. He said investments in women and children never went in vain. He placed importance on increasing women’s participation in the labour market.

The World Bank’s education adviser TM Asaduzzaman, pointing to the fourth industrial revolution ahead, spoke of creating new job markets, increasing intellectual skills and increasing digital skills.

Also present at the roundtable were UNFPA Bangladesh deputy representative Eiko Narita and UNICEF’s social policy expert Hasina Begum.

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