· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· India is currently enjoying a ‘demographic dividend’, which means, it has a higher labor 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 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· Healthcare in India so pathetic that without a seismic change the demographic dividend may not last as long as envisaged. The country has one of the lowest government expenditures on public health at a measly 1.2% of GDP.
· To compare, fellow BRICS countries China and Brazil spend 5.5% and 9% of the GDP on healthcare. In 2015, the Indian government went so far as to slash the budgets for both education and health sectors.
Consider some statistics:
· Around 700,000 unqualified doctors are practicing medicine in Indian hospitals.
· 50% of Indians (and 60% of those living in rural areas) travel at least 5 kilometers to access a healthcare center and in rural India,8% of primary healthcare centers do not have medical staff.
· Less than 15% of the population has healthcare insurance or cover. A single illness in a poor family can push a family below the poverty line.