41pc youth are neither working nor studying
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics Report of 2022, approximately 41 per cent of youth in Bangladesh are inactive. This means they are neither in education, employment, nor receiving any job training.
Notably, the rate of inactivity is significantly higher among girls, standing at 61.71 per cent, while among boys, it is lower at 18.59 per cent. The number of such inactive youth is on the rise.
The BBS has defined the age range of 15 to 24 years for determining the rate of inactive youth. Based on this criterion, the report indicates that the number of inactive youth in Bangladesh is approximately 12.9 million.
Economists and labour market experts attribute the high rate of inactive youth to various factors, including early marriage of girls, lack of necessary job skills, inadequate education, insufficient employment opportunities, and poor social conditions.
The BBS Census and Household Census Report-2022 reveals that the number of young people aged between 15 and 24 years in the country is approximately 31.6 million, slightly more than 19 per cent of the total population. According to the Sample Vital Statistics report, 40.67 per cent of this demographic is inactive, totalling about 12.9 million individuals
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) report titled 'Global Employment Policy Review-2023', youth unemployment rates tend to be lower in developed countries compared to developing and low-income nations such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
The report highlights that the calculation of inactive youth began in 2005, with the rate peaking globally at 25 per cent in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. By 2022, it had decreased to 23.5 per cent.
The rise in inactive youth poses numerous social challenges, including the risk of increased involvement in activities such as criminal acts. Some analysts attribute the emergence of a 'teenage gang' culture in Bangladesh to the growing number of inactive youth.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize the importance of reducing youth unemployment rates, and Bangladesh has set targets to achieve this objective.
However, there has been no progress in meeting these targets, with the rate of inactive youth actually increasing. According to the SVRS-2021, the rate of inactive youth stood at 39.6 per cent, marking a 1 percentage point increase compared to the previous year.
The Citizen’s Platform for the Implementation of SDGs has identified the inactive youth as 'disengaged youth.' Economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, the convener of the Citizen’s Platform, explained to Prothom Alo that disengaged youth exhibit four distinct trends: 1. mental depression, 2. drug addiction, 3. involvement in domestic and social violence, and 4. leaning towards extremism.
He emphasized that the rise in the rate of disengaged youth is concerning, as it could contribute to social unrest.
Number of inactive youths
The BBS Census and Household Census Report-2022 reveals that the number of young people aged between 15 and 24 years in the country is approximately 31.6 million, slightly more than 19 per cent of the total population. According to the Sample Vital Statistics report, 40.67 per cent of this demographic is inactive, totalling about 12.9 million individuals.
The figure of inactive youth is corroborated by the BBS Labour Force Survey, which indicates a 22 per cent inactivity rate among individuals aged 15 to 29 years, as per the 2022 survey findings. However, differences exist between the results of the Labour Force Survey and the Sample Vital Statistics, primarily due to definitional variations.
Alamgir Hossain, Director of the SVRS Digital Platform Project at BBS, informed Prothom Alo that the Labour Force Survey adopts the definition provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding employment.
According to this definition, if an individual has worked for money for at least one hour in the last seven days, they are not considered unemployed. Additionally, the SVRS survey asks individuals whether they consider themselves unemployed or employed.
Since 2021, the SVRS has included the accounting of inactive population to better understand the employment situation in Bangladesh. Notably, this calculation is part of ongoing efforts to assess employment dynamics within the country, with over 300,000 households sampled in this survey.
In addressing the issue of youth inactivity in the country, the reasons differ significantly between boys and girls. Experts note that a significant portion of girls are victims of child marriage or marry at a young age.
According to the BBS, the average age of marriage for girls is 19 years and 3 months. Consequently, when they are about to enter the labor market, they are often preoccupied with household and childcare responsibilities. Unfortunately, domestic work performed by women is not recognized as formal employment.
For instance, a young girl from Mirpur in Dhaka was forced into child marriage at the age of 17 and is now a mother to one child. Consequently, she had to discontinue her studies. As she is not currently engaged in education, employment, or training, she is categorised as an inactive youth.
Wishing not to be named, the young woman told Prothom Alo that she was married off while she was studying. Her desire to join work after study was not fulfilled.
A major cause of inactivity among boys is not finding work they like. According to experts, in many cases young people do not get the jobs they are looking for. Again, the lack of skills to do the available jobs is also evident.
A young man, who prefers to remain anonymous, has been diligently searching for employment for a year and a half since graduating with a pass degree from a college in Barisal. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he expressed that he neither can engage in manual labour or work in a shop, aspiring instead for a government job, no matter how small.
Reflecting on his education, he lamented the lack of proficiency in Bengali, English, and Mathematics despite spending numerous years in school. In contrast, he observed his neighbour, who had acquired skills in motorcycle repair and now owns a shop of his own.
According to BBS statistics, the youth unemployment rate in the country is at its peak. While the national unemployment rate stands at 3.5 per cent, youth unemployment is as high as 8 per cent. Furthermore, unemployment rates increase with higher levels of education, with about 12 per cent of highly educated individuals remaining unemployed. Alarmingly, one in four of the country's total unemployed population is highly educated.
Emphasis on technical education essential
The rate of inactive youth varies across regions, with Barisal recording the lowest rate at 38.32 per cent and Sylhet the highest at 43.98 per cent. In other regions, the rates are as follows: 39.4 per cent in Rangpur, 39.09 per cent in Rajshahi, 39.53 per cent in Dhaka, 39.66 per cent in Khulna, 40.50 per cent in Mymensingh, and 43.77 per cent in Chattogram.
Economists and labour market experts have identified several reasons for the persistent high rates of inactive youth. Firstly, there is a significant gender disparity in labour force participation, with women being underrepresented.
Secondly, educational institutions often fail to impart the skills required by the job market, with insufficient emphasis on technical education. Thirdly, concerns persist regarding the quality of education, as many graduates lack proficiency in Bengali and English language skills. Lastly, the creation of new employment opportunities has not kept pace with the country's GDP growth.
Binayak Sen, Director General and Economist of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Research (BIDS), underscores the importance of emphasizing technical and vocational education to reduce the rate of inactive youth and reintegrate dropouts into the education system. He highlights the need to alleviate the burden of unpaid family labor on women, as this could hinder their participation in the labour market.
He also draws attention to the stagnation of the birth rate in Bangladesh, attributing it to the insufficient increase in the use of modern methods of birth control. He emphasises that without improvements in this area, the rate of inactivity among women is unlikely to decrease.
*This report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat