Rising Hysteria – Youth Migration Challenges for Karachi

October 5, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Shahid Ali



Zeeshan A. Shah

In 1947, Pakistan became a sovereign state. Since then, Karachi became the capital city and the tipping point for discovery, exploration, history and economics – the city of hope. Due to the high birth rate in Pakistan, similar to other low income high populated countries in the developing world, we are burdened with too many young people. Karachi remains traumatized today crossing the 24 million population mark making it the fifth or sixth most populous city in the world.

Around 75% of illegal immigrants in Pakistan are living in Karachi. In Karachi city alone lays the highest population of Afghani Migrants who are staying as guests from across the border but have succeeded in becoming permanent refugees, fuelling the already serious migration crisis in the city. These people have acquired fake identity cards under illegal flawed systems and are now slowly being checked for compliance. This is a grave concern for the government of Pakistan and the provincial and city governments, as it also has dangerous implications through the high drug trade being done through border channels and weapons supplies on a constant basis that is being used to arm the younger generation, brain washing them into taking up weapons instead of education. Thus, a larger more lethal issue as the implications of migration grows every day. The refugee population is right now a major part of Karachi’s 24 million people. Most of the illegal immigrants are employed in Karachi within the informal sector, around 30% of the economy, Karachi generating 70% of the economic revenue growth for the country. Yes, there is rising concern over this issue in Karachi and an increasing hysteria.

Here is where we review and address the issue of youth migration in Karachi and across the country. Youth Migration or the “Youth Bulge” – usually defined as a high proportion of 15 to 29 year olds relative to the total population, a prominent danger sign in most countries where the population estimates vary abnormally. Asia, South East Asia and North Africa are at an all-time risk of high population with major cities dealing with heavy migration as people in smaller cities migrate to larger ones to seek employment and better lives. Between 28 and 30 percent of the population in all such places consists of youth. These levels are higher in main cities with each such country, as we see young people moving towards urbanization.

In Pakistan, about 33% of the population are the youth. In Karachi for example, the percentage could be almost around 37%, which means that if the city population is 24 million and counting, we have over 8 million youth population in one the largest growing cities in the world. This is serious – Karachi has the highest amount of immigrants and illegal aliens as well which adds to the migration challenge making it more deadly. A combination of national demographic trends and youth movements to cities often creates an urban surge of considerable magnitude.

Youth Migration from rural to urban cities is a global trend. Youth is a crucial segment of the national population. If the youth is educated, well trained and channelized they can play a crucial role in the development of the economy. Countries like China, South Korea, Iran and Turkey are some examples. On the other hand, scattered and fragmented youth societies, who lack direction, training or education, can actually cause turmoil and disruption in society. Here, countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan are becoming visibly obvious.

One of the more positive trends that one needs to highlight is that the more the youth bulge in a country, the more the chances to ensure higher GDPs, as the youth are employed, earn more, multiply productivity, have families, have children and hence create an overall  substantial economic growth and prosperity. Economic progress, national cohesion and social peace depend substantially on the success in providing opportunities to the youth; the ultimate goal is to bring the youth positively into national life. The global discourse of youth and development highlights the importance of education and work opportunities where the government needs to take charge to address this vital point of action. Countries with higher economic success are the ones with the best optimum utilization and absorption of the “Youth Bulge”.

Pakistan’s key city offers many opportunities for growth, has great natural resources, a cheaper labor force but a potential to become a prosperous country only if the key portion of the population is looked after by the state, giving them hope and opportunity. The Youth Population (ages 15-29) has increased from 30% in 1981 to 35% in 1998, when the last census took place. In a country where the census has not been conducted for the last 18 years, a serious question mark is raised on the governance of the country and its overall vision. Due to the lack of leadership and poor governance in Pakistan for over two decades, Karachi and its youth are facing a daunting task to survive.

Making a comparative survey analysis, in several Asian Countries the percentage of youth in the total population is declining except in Pakistan. In 1961, the total population of the country was 43 million out of which 12.5 million was the youth. In 1998, Pakistan crossed 132 million with the youth population rising to 36.3 million. In 2015, the country crossed 190 million with the bulging youth at 53.2 million. With this kind of phenomenal growth in population, there is always hope for performance through education, diversity and increased motivation for excellence.

Pakistan ranks the lowest in South Asia on Primary Education. With regard to the percentage of youth enrolled in primary schools, aged 5-9 years, Pakistan ranks lowest on 66% compared to Egypt at 95%, Indonesia at 94%, Iran and Turkey at 95%. Even Bangladesh, formally East Pakistan is at 93%. A more shocking estimate is the percentage enrolled in colleges and universities aged 18-24 years. Here only 5% of youth is enrolled in college. This also suggests that a huge of unemployed youth force needs to be positively engaged.

Karachi being highly populated shoulders a high responsibility of mobilizing youth. In 1998, Karachi was around 112 million people and 37 million youth. Today we have a huge younger generation estimated at around 70 million out of the 24 million people, one of the largest cities in the world, crossing New Delhi and New York at 22 million respectively.

Further survey results that were conducted in recent years through a research by social scientists state that it was further estimated over 43% of the younger generation believed that the country’s situation will get worse than better in future. Another result found out that over 49% of the people graduating from college would like to work abroad. These two trends are risky and pose a direct threat to the country in terms of progress and economic prosperity as it indicates a growing sense of negative energy, frustration, lack of confidence and diminishing hope in the country by the youth.

Karachi’s migration challenges are tremendous. The local government is unable to produce enough jobs for the youth masses out in the city. Jobs are the key to success for Karachi. Over 90% of the youth believe that corruption is the number one problem in the city, followed by inflation, violence, unemployment, poverty, pollution, lack of education and population. Government sector jobs are not based on merit orientation and involve nepotism. Private sector jobs are highly competitive and are not advertised for masses. NGO jobs are also preferably given upon recommendation or sifarish/nepotism. Over 68% of men believe in working for the government, 54% want private jobs, 28% not for profit jobs and 47% working as entrepreneurs.

The future direction is towards creating opportunities and skills for youth to use and apply in making money. With over 75% of the school going youth and 90% of the college going youth having access to mobile phones and cheap internet packages, they are getting more frustrated today having direct access to communication, information to the global world, trends and successes elsewhere thereby increasing their frustration and reducing their own motivation leading them towards violence and destruction. This is clearly seen as Karachi has become one of the most violence prone cities in the world, similar to many other cities where the population is inversely proportional to education; higher population, lower education.

Education is the key solution to improving the migration issues so that we engage our energized youth and prevent the brain drain that is occurring in Karachi and Pakistan as more younger people are getting the wrong vibes and are being led to believe that the future is darker than it is brighter. The fact is that the future is exceptionally bright inside Pakistan as the government can take this matter on priority, identify educators, trainers and leaders, utilize their skillsets to retain the youth masses, absorb them into jobs, create new jobs, improve vocational skills, feed them positive vibes, reduce the rural urban divide by reaching rural communities and create jobs there. Lots to be done therefore and it take resilience and commitment.

Another issue that also affects migration indirectly is the issue of transportation that needs to transport this constantly rising youth population from one place to another. About 20% of all expenses in Karachi go into transportation, similar to lower income generating cities globally. To fix this issue, we need to have better governance and lack of good transportation is also one of the leading causes of frustration for youth who have to go to colleges and schools and are unable to pay for their expenses. The government needs to look into this. For example, Karachi city has only 8000 buses for the population of 24 million people. We need more bus routes and buses in the city to cater to the mass population. Plus, the city needs more money to address the matter. Karachi’s city wealth is the lowest amongst the most populated cities in the world – this is also one of the factors that impacts the youth eventually as they have no facilities at all to engage them or give them a better quality of education and city environment. The tram system, still widely popular in Europe, was shut down in Karachi in 1975.

Karachi is 135 out of 140 on the list of the most livable cities and can get much better as we have to make it better for the youth of the city. Karachi has a vibrant life, high energy, the best food and brave citizens who are truly cosmopolitan and diverse. In the end, we in Pakistan are like any other great country that is on its way to progress, minus all the political agenda-based governance and lack of accountability and injustice. Karachi will become even more prosperous in time as we understand the value of our present youth culture and gear it into action, recognize the value and empower them.









Zeeshan A. Shah

The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.

With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.

A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.


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