FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 25

Perils of ignoring people’s basic rights

Pakistan has failed to become a viable state because it has not been able to provide basic rights to its people. The result is that almost all regional countries are ahead of it in every sphere. Pakistan’s all sectors, including the economy, health and education, are deteriorating because the main focus of its policies is the facilitation of the elite class at the cost of the common people. However, the situation cannot remain the same now. The country has reached a point where impediments to the wellbeing of the people will have to be removed or the mess will worsen.

It is a pity that the state has prioritised its upper classes and deprived the common people of their basic rights since its inception. Its fallout is now visible in all departments and fields. The country is facing the mess because all basic rights, like education, health, justice and jobs, were snatched from the common people under a plan. It has increased inequality and the sense of deprivation in different regions and provinces of the country. Cruelty breeds unrest. Pakistan is facing unrest because of injustice to its people, which continues unabated.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s Human Capital Index (HCI) value of 0.41 is lower than the South Asia average of 0.48, and human capital outcomes are more comparable to those in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has an average HCI value of 0.40. The report titled, “Pakistan Human Capital Review (HCR), Building Capabilities Throughout Life”, says low human capital outcomes limit Pakistan’s further progress, capping its growth and development prospects, though the country had reached middle-income status and made significant progress in reducing poverty over the past two decades.

The report noted that an estimated 20.3 million of Pakistan’s school-age children are out of school. In addition, Pakistan’s learning poverty rate—the percentage of children unable to read and understand a short age-appropriate text by age 10—stood at 75 percent before the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2022 floods, more than 19 percentage points above the average for lower-middle-income countries. “Early childhood development outcomes in Pakistan are low relative to those in middle-income countries. Only 40–59 percent of young children, depending on the province, are reported by their parents to be developmentally on track, whereas, the average in peer countries is 75 percent. Some 40 percent of children under five are stunted, and 18 percent under five are wasted. And fewer than one in five children get enrolled in early childhood education,” it added.

After the pandemic and the recent floods are accounted for, learning poverty is estimated to have risen to 79 percent. “The main determinants of nutrition are food intake, environmental health, and care for children and women, and very few of Pakistan’s children under two have adequacy on all three. The proportion of children with multiple adequacies is low in Pakistan: more than 26 percent of children lack adequacy on any of the three determinants, and fewer than two percent of children have adequacy on all three dimensions. The pandemic has likely erased nearly a decade of progress on human capital for both boys and girls.”

It is a matter of concern that Pakistan’s HCI value of 0.41 is low in both absolute and relative terms. It is lower than the South Asia average of 0.48, with Bangladesh at 0.46 and Nepal at 0.49. If Pakistan continues on its current trajectory in human capital development, its GDP per capita would grow overall by a mere 18 percent through 2047, the 100th anniversary of its founding. If Pakistan can boost human capital investments and its HCI value to the level of its peers, per capita GDP could grow by 32 percent. But if Pakistan improves both its human capital and its use of human capital, bringing adults into employment outside farming, GDP per capita could rise by 144 percent, eight times more than under business as usual, the World Bank forecast. “Simulations accounting for the pandemic show that Pakistan’s HCI value would be reduced from 0.41 to 0.37, lower than its 2012 level. The main culprit is the reduction in the quantity of schooling (due to dropouts) and in quality (due to learning loss), both of which have been confirmed by empirical studies.”

The report identifies that economic gains from human capital can be realised only if people can utilise their skills and ingenuity in productive activities, such as gainful employment in the labour market. After utilisation in the labour market is adjusted for, Pakistan’s HCI value falls from 0.41 to 0.20. There is an enormous gender inequality in utilisation of human capital: the utilisation adjusted HCI value is 0.31 for men and only 0.08 for women. This underscores the low female labour force participation, at just over 20 percent (and even lower for those aged 15–24), in Pakistan. About 60 percent of working-age women are not in employment, education, or training. “Strong human capital is essential for sustainable economic growth, to prepare the workforce for the more highly skilled jobs of the future, and to compete effectively in the global economy,” said Mamta Murthi, the World Bank’s Vice President for Human Development.

The report warns that low human capital development could limit the realisation of its ambition to become an upper-middle-income country by 2047. Human capital makes up 61 percent of Pakistan’s wealth, yet its levels of human capital are among the world’s lowest. The bank recommended that Pakistan needs a healthy, skilled, and resilient population to ensure high economic growth that is both sustainable and inclusive. With the right policies and investments, the growing working-age population can become healthier, more educated, more skilled, and more productive—and can earn more if the economy generates more and better jobs. It underlined the need for Pakistan to significantly increase investments in human capital to address the severe gaps it faces in education and health outcomes particularly.

The report has identified all problems of the country. The policymakers will have to change their mindset for the development of the country.