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The healthcare sector is really where India must up its game. Rates of malnutrition among India’s children are almost five times higher than China’s and twice those in Sub-Saharan Africa. A staggering 75% of new mothers are anaemic.
The country must also generate large scale employment, taking care to ensure more women join the work force. Concurrently, access to quality higher education must be expedited; currently, 75% of graduates, by some estimates are not considered employable.
Education, especially secondary education for girls, must be prioritized. The gross enrolment ratio for girls at the secondary school level is 73.7 (slightly higher than for boys) but the government cannot rest until that number is 100. The 10% cut in government allocation for the school sector means the push to towards total gross enrollment just got harder.
However a demographic disaster looms too. This is caused by low levels of investment in education and health. Currently the majority of Indian workers – nine out of ten – are in the informal sector, where employment is unsteady, pay is poor and social security is lacking.
India is currently enjoying a “demographic dividend”, which means, it has a higher labour force than the population dependent on it. While this may appear a reason for blissful complacency, it must be remembered that by the latter half of the century India will have an increasingly aging population, yet the country lacks a social security net adequate for the needs of its people.
However Western Europe, the US, South Korea, Japan and China have grown rich before they have grown old. They invested in education and skills, health, empowerment and employment and ensured women joined the workforce, as they were empowered to plan their families.
With Western Europe, the US, South Korea, Japan and even China aging, this demographic potential offers India and its growing economy an unprecedented edge that economists believe could add a significant 2% to the GDP growth rate.
By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 and it is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group.
Is this an ominous sign of social upheaval that looms in the horizon?
Henrik Urdal of the Harvard Kennedy School finds that globally, it is nearly all young men who fight in wars or commit violent crimes and found that a “youth bulge” made them more strife-prone. When 15-24-year-olds made up more than 35% of the adult population—as is common in developing countries—the risk of conflict was 150% higher than with a rich-country age profile.
An incendiary and violent jobs reservation protest by young people from a community known as Jats in Haryana was close to bringing the capital of India, New Delhi to a standstill.
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