The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed young people's opportunities and posed barriers not just in the realm of institutional education but also in skills development. The discussion highlighted how the National Youth Action Plan (NYAP) should be implemented during this time. Marginalised groups should be prioritised to uphold the spirit of giving young people the credentials to make decisions. Engagement of youth as active participants in all stages is crucial for the implementation of the NYAP. The NYAP must be harmonised with the eighth Five Year Plan. Its implementation would require time-bound specific activities with estimated resource allocations. A national youth council is of the utmost necessity, not just at the national level, but also at the divisional level, in order to be more inclusive and representative. Coordination among the government ministries and departments would be vital to start this government led implementation process. External policy actors, i.e. civil society and youth community, should be part of the implementation process.
Farah Kabir, Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh
We have, for several years, emphasised on the need of a National Plan of Action for the implementation of the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2017. The NYAP developed during the pandemic raises concerns as to whether we should proceed with the plan without taking into consideration the impact of the pandemic. Addressing the issues of young people regarding education, health, employment, representation, and their mental health demands a critical review. We all know that young people, particularly young women, are living in various kinds of vulnerabilities and they require dedicated support to address the present-day challenges along with the existing structural challenges of discrimination and inequity.
In the midst of the pandemic, we have seen how young people are deprived of institutional education and skill development opportunities. We have also seen young people taking up the challenge and taking initiatives. Fortunately, Bangladesh does not have a dearth of talent and it is manifested in their multiple achievements. What the young people need is investment so that they can flourish. Government should develop its plans and systems for providing those opportunities to the marginalised young people in a targeted manner.
Our discussion focuses on ways we can implement the NYAP and here we need to ensure inclusivity of all youth and not restrict ourselves to helping a specific population of young people. It took us four years to come up with the NYAP, we cannot invest another four years coming up with a youth council. Therefore, the alternative can be creating a shadow youth council. Let the citizens consider taking such action.
Korban Ali, Deputy Manager-Youth Representation, ActionAid Bangladesh
Our review of the NYAP observes that, in contradiction of the spirit of the youth policy, it offers young people an invited space to engage in discussions, rather than a space constructed for them to engage in decision-making. The plan seems to view young people as service recipients, overlooking their equal citizenship. Lastly, it speaks of indirect engagement of the youth with policymakers instead of direct ways of sharing their views. Prioritising a bureaucracy-centric approach, the action plan mostly remains silent on how civil society and youth community will engage with its implementation process.
The authority can urgently consult relevant stakeholders to find ways of addressing the shortfalls of the plan in its implementation process. A space can be constructed where youth, youth organisations, and civil society can come together and participate in the national steering committee for enabling the implementation of the NYAP.
Sabi Rani Rabidas, Member, Agrogani Jubo Foundation, Nilphamari
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, I took training to be a driver. Four month's training took me over a year to complete, but even then I was unable to obtain a license to drive. Same thing happened to the place I volunteered. I joined a training programme in February, but it was all stopped again for the lockdown.
Mahmudul Hasan, Youth Coordinator, UNDP Bangladesh
One matter that is not addressed is the digital divide. If we want to create jobs for the youth, we need to invest in this area. We need to take a coherent approach for providing skills training.
In one of our recent consultations with young people, they stated that they are often invited to express their views, but these recommendations are not systematically captured or followed up on. A systematic platform where their views will be reported and checked as to whether they are being reflected in the policy and implementation system was recommended. The National Youth Council or the Youth Ministry could play a role here.
Sadik Hasan Rohid, President, Shopnoproyash Jubo Sangstha, Kushtia
In the beginning when people were anxious about the pandemic and unwilling to leave their houses, it was the youth who stepped up.
These very youths have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Educational institutions being closed has led to various negative impacts on them. They are experiencing tremendous amount of mental pressure and loneliness due to being house bound, so it must be considered in the NYAP.
Korvi Rakhsand, Founder, JAAGO Foundation
The problems of a youth in Dhaka and the problems of a youth in Rangpur will not be the same as their problems are very diverse. A national youth council of sorts with both a national and divisional body can help us find the solutions to problems in a localised way.
We need to ask what role the youth for whom the NYAP has been made, will have in the accomplishment of the plan.
We need to set some targets and deadlines to know what we plan to achieve within a specified period of time.
Refat Jahan Node, Member, Youth Voice of Chattogram
The people at the local level often undervalue the capacity of youths to contribute to councils or meetings. As a result, we are unable to voice our needs and issues. When we try to inform them that we would like to speak, we are given a very short time.
Many young people have lost jobs. Furthermore, owing to joblessness, many are turning towards addiction. These contexts must be taken into account for the implementation of the NYAP.
Nazmul Ahsan, Manager-Young People, ActionAid Bangladesh
Young people should be engaged in all sorts of development discussion not as passive recipients rather as active participants in planning, implementing, and in the follow up process.
Grassroots young people are underprivileged and they have very little space to engage in the governance structures. Designing and delivering services to these people is crucial and putting a gender lens here is a must in the NYAP implementation process. The current NYAP planning seems rather vague. The plan requires time-bound specific activities where required resources should be estimated and allocated. The NYAP implementation process must be harmonised with the eighth Five Year Plan. In addition, it is assumed, coordination among the government ministries and department would be vital to start the implementation process.
The NYAP implementation strategies must be made very clear and there should also be a monitoring mechanism consisting of the active participation of young people.
Dr Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor, Department of Development Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Dhaka
Our online education is not inclusive. Many youths do not have proper devices and cannot afford to buy mobile data. Although our NYAP was created before the pandemic began, it should have still included steps for crisis management regarding youth education and livelihoods.
If we view this plan as a means of development and governance, the first gap is that the entire plan is government-led. The external policy environment, which includes civil society and youth committees, is better-equipped than the government and hence should have part in the facilitation of implementation of NYAP.
Shammy Wadud, Director PR & Communications, United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh (UNYSAB)
Many young people are not being able to take the opportunity of remote jobs across the world due to lack of skills. Providing everyone with devices in a country like Bangladesh is not feasible. Devices could be available conditionally at an equated monthly installment (EMI) or low prices.
Organisations that work with young people directly should create a working paper highlighting the gaps in the NYAP and put forward specific recommendations.
Aktar Uddin, Country Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), Bangladesh
The NYAP should focus on including and incentivising youth volunteers. There are numerous voluntary youth organisations that need support from the government, development partners, and stakeholders.
Volunteering practices in the country have no structure, which is why the government is developing a National Volunteer Policy.
A national database of youth volunteers should be created, including information about which sectors the volunteers are interested in contributing to. Proper orientation and training should be set up for young people.
Aroma Datta, Hon'ble Member of Parliament
The NYAP has many gaps but also a lot of potential. The NYAP is way too vast and covers almost all sectors. But, this is an issue in itself because we would not know what to focus on and with so many sectors involved, coordination becomes a key issue. There seems to be a lack of coordination among the youths as well.
Since the NYAP is too vast, we must put our focus first on specific areas containing the most marginalised groups and start the work there, because we must decide from where to start.
Shamsuddoza Sajen, Editor, Commercial Supplements, The Daily Star
Globally, one in six youths has become unemployed. Over 90 percent of them have stated that they are facing a range of mental health challenges. Among them, 80 percent of young women are uncertain about their future. Therefore, overall, while the youth are often viewed as the source of energy and innovation in society, they are also going through a difficult time themselves in this pandemic.