Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Equal opportunities needed

LAHORE: Pakistan with 3.8 percent minorities of the 8.35 million population is the poorest among the poor, as poor are denied equal opportunities in economic activities. The fact that the Punjab Vocational Training Council (PVTC) has imparted skill training to over 800,000 poor children in 22 years, but it may not be a piece of big news given the huge poor population in Pakistan. But none of these children belonged to the minorities living in Pakistan is depressing news.

This shows the attitude of our society towards minorities.

It was after this realisation that the Punjab government launched the minority-specific project last year to provide training to 1,000 non-Muslim youth through a special grant.

It has been said that the philanthropic activities in Pakistan take care of most of the poor in the country, but most of the money, in this regard, comes from Zakat that every Muslim even with nominal wealth (ornaments or property) is supposed to pay at 2.5 percent of the value. So, the poor Muslims are better served than poor minorities.

It is a fact that the total population living in poverty lacks access to resources and has no voice in society; still, the governments in Pakistan do initiate programmes to improve the lot of the poor, mainly run through Zakat.

Zakat funds are spent on Muslims only, which account for 96.2 percent of the total population. Yearly Zakat collection through banks amounts to around Rs9.5 billion in Pakistan, of which Rs5 billion, collected in Punjab, goes to the Punjab Baitulmaal. It distributes the amount to the deserving poor and for the welfare projects meant to provide free services to them.

The Punjab Vocational Training Council was established in 1998 from funding provided by the Punjab Baitulmaal to provide free skill training to poor children. This yearly grant is subject to the total collection of Zakat by the Baitulmaal. Only Muslim youth could avail of this facility.

In 22 years, the PVTC has imparted skills to over 800,000 Muslim youth, 80 percent of whom are gainfully employed or are self-employed. It could not enroll any non-Muslims, as the fund is meant for Muslims only.

The PVTC was; thus, instrumental in improving the lives of around 28,000 poor Muslim youths every year, but the minorities remained deprived.

One must appreciate that after a long delay, some realisation about the injustice to the minorities was felt and the Punjab Vocational Training Council completed the project titled “Socioeconomic support for minorities” through a special grant of Rs100 million.

The initiative was taken to encompass the socioeconomic empowerment of minorities by imparting them demand-driven skills training in collaboration with the industry.

Training was imparted under the Cooperative Vocational Training mode in which the leading national industries were involved to impart training at respective industry premises.

Of the Rs100 million granted for the project, Rs96 million were specified for the training execution. Of the remaining Rs4 million, 2 percent was granted for those who passed out successfully and would be awarded grants of up to Rs500,000 to promote entrepreneurship.

Of 1,000 selected youth, 693 were women, while the remaining 307 were men. Each training received a stipend of Rs2,000/month and was provided with a free uniform, training manuals, and lab material.

The PVTC intends to increase the number of trainees to 3,000 this year if the government disbursed the promised grant. This one special programme was executed with dedication and almost all the trainees have been employed or received job offers.

It was because the training was based on the needs of the industries concerned that were persuaded to provide six months of job training to the minority students.

The entire skill training needs this approach, which at present, is not available to the Muslim trainees because of the paucity of funds.

According to the 2017 Census, Muslims make up 96.2 percent of Pakistan’s population, Hindus 1.6 percent, Christians 1.59 percent, Scheduled Castes 0.25 percent, Ahmadis 0.22 percent, and other minorities 0.07 percent.

Most of these minorities live in poverty. Christian missionaries, to some extent, offer some helping hand to faith mates, while other minorities are not so organised. They are not treated with respect by society. Need-based skill training programmes could help them wriggle out of poverty.

Source: The News

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