Experts attend a webinar organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Bangladesh on Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Bangladesh to become an aging society by 2029, warns Unicef

Experts predict that Bangladesh has less than 20 years before it is considered to have an aging population, and the private sector should tap into this young population now.

They made the remarks during a virtual event titled “Demographic Dividend in Bangladesh: Role of Private Sector,” on Tuesday jointly organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Bangladesh and Unicef.

According to Unicef, Bangladesh will become an aging society in 2029, thus having a short demographic window of opportunity.

The country ranks second beside Singapore, with only 18 years to make the transition from a youth-heavy society to an ageing one.

Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef Representative for Bangladesh, presented the current-forecasted demographic dividend of Bangladesh during the webinar moderated by Mahbubur Rahman, president of ICC Bangladesh.  

In contrast, neighboring Asian countries like Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, China and Malaysia have somewhere between 22-24 years of the transition period.

Although the demographic window began in 1978 and was slated to end in 2033, as of 2021, Bangladesh has already passed 78% of that duration with a small window of opportunity.

In 1960, roughly 20 people of working age supported a dependent senior, whereas, in 2020, approximately 13 working people supported one senior. It is expected to drop to 3:1 by 2060 further, said the Unicef representative.

“It is the perfect time for the private sector to invest in the economy through its demographic dividend. Today’s children need to become far more productive than today’s adults by the time they become adults themselves to take care of a much higher proportion of senior dependents in the society and also continue to develop the country on a sustainable basis,” said Hozumi.

Speakers also emphasized education and health sector reforms in sustaining the economic growth and safeguarding its demographic dividends that can impact national productivity, consumption, and other socio-economic issues.

According to Mahbubur Rahman, businesses and the private sector have played a crucial role in developing and sustaining economic growth – by increasing investment up to 10% in 1985 and another 23% in 2018 – accounting for three-fourths of the investment.

Moreover, the private sector can also enable the nation to reap the full benefits of its changing demographic dividends, he also said.

“As of 2020, the number of working people in our country is slightly above 60% of the total population, which means around 105 million people are in some kind of work. About 60% of these working people are in the actual labor force, while 40% are irregularly employed.

Additionally, more than 80% of employed people are in the informal sector, which is not secured, and their income growth is also unstable. Another majority of the workforce is in agriculture,” said the ICCB president.

However, according to Mahbubul Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCCI), the new generation’s interest in agriculture in rural Bangladesh has been declining, posing a severe challenge.  

“Therefore, even though Bangladesh has a large base of the young population, we have not yet been able to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend,” he added.

Rizwan Rahman, president of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI), pointed out the existing industry-academia gap, and said that the private sector and the government need to collaborate in up-scaling or re-scaling the current labor force.

One-country-one-rate-broadband can be a great tool in closing this gap, he added.

Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA), emphasized enhancing the workforce’s skills concerning the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) by integrating and training the existing force on AI, IoT, technology, etc.

Md Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI), echoed similar sentiments on creating a diversified workforce in terms of creativity and innovation.

Nihad Kabir, president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI); Mohammad Ali Khokon, president of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA); Syed Manzur Elahi, chairman, Apex Footwear Limited, Rokia Afzal Rahman and AK Azad, vice presidents of ICC Bangladesh, also took part in the virtual event.

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