The tally of the world's youth (15-24 years) without work has touched an all-time high, but the situation can be redeemed says the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is perhaps time the focus is turned away from what Amartya Sen called the other day (in characterising Europe's response to the global economic crisis) “the fetish with fiscal figures.” Figures for the jobless jumped by a staggering 7.8 million in 2007-2009, as against an average annual increase of some 200,000 for a decade up to 2006. Similarly, the proportion of the unemployed to the employable rose from 11.9 per cent to 13 per cent between 2007 and 2009, reversing a declining trend since 2002. In fact, the one percentage point increase in 2008-09 marked the biggest annual change in the 20 years for which estimates are available. The figures, says the ILO, suggest that the youth have greater sensitivity than adult workers to the impact of the global financial crisis. About 28 per cent of young workers belong to households surviving on less than $1.25 per day, a segment that is likely to behind the adults in the recovery phase.

The developing world is home to nearly 90 per cent of the economically active youth, with Asia alone accounting for some 60 per cent. India, with half its population under 25 years of age, has huge stakes in shaping the prospects of an entire new generation. The importance of guaranteed minimum income and social welfare protection for this segment of the working population cannot be overstated in a context where employment is created predominantly in the informal sector, which is under-regulated. Relevant here is also the absence of compulsory education beyond 14 years in countries such as India, which induces premature and forced entry into the labour market. Raising the national legal age of children to 18 years, as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates, is an important first step to address many shortcomings linked to education, skills, and employment. Given that a strong base in skills is pivotal to the emerging knowledge-based economies of this century, it is only logical that skills development should receive priority. On most accounts, the prospects of regaining the momentum of economic growth globally and narrowing inequities depend heavily on the performance of Asian countries. It is inconceivable that this could happen save through a fresh impetus to school education and conditions of decent employment.

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