Youth in prisons: Learning livelihood skills to start new lives

July 1, 2020

Imprisoned youth are probably one of the most vulnerable populations of youth in Pakistan. Time spent in poorly equipped and retributive prisons systems can diminish their dignity. This stigma of criminality also hinders social and economic reintegration after they have served their sentence.

Supported by the Government of Japan, UNDP is addressing this challenge through its Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP). The programme providing psychological counselling, livelihood skills trainings, and non-formal education to a hundred young detainees (aged between 15 to 29 years) in the Industrial School established for young offenders in Malir District Prison, and Women’s Prison in Karachi.

Interventions of imparting these rehabilitation skills aim at providing the youth with the necessary skills and knowledge to function as productive and responsible citizens after release. It also decreases their chances of getting involved in criminal activities again. From many reinstated young individuals, we have selected to share the story of Ahmed and Bashir.


Ahmed is a 16-year-old detainee at the Youthful Offenders Industrial School (YOIS) in Karachi. Lacking depth and sense of purpose in life, Ahmed used to spend most of his time roaming the streets of Karachi with his group of friends. He did odd jobs, and whatever income was generated was spent on playing video games and at internet cafés watching pornographic content.

He got detained in the juvenile detention centre over charges of theft. The YOIS provided very little opportunity for constructive activities which made him lose any remaining motivation for growth. However, that changed when Ahmed got enrolled in a digital literacy programme for young detainees by UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Programme.

According to the digital skills instructor, Ahmed quickly learned the basic use of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. He also had a natural talent for drawing and sketching using Microsoft Paint. He was able to learn the application of these softwares more quickly than his fellow inmates who had formal education. Along with technical skills training, Ahmed also received psychological counselling.

“I always used the computer for viewing illicit content, and never realized that it can be used for earning money”, said Ahmed.
“I am very happy to have completed my training. I will use my skills to work as a graphic designer after my release.”


Bashir is a 28-year-old man who belongs to Sarjani Town in Karachi. He does not have any formal education. Before his incarceration over alleged involvement in a theft, he drove a public transport bus in Karachi.

Bashir enrolled in a motorcycle repair course offered by UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Programme for young offenders in the prisons of Karachi. He enrolled for the course after realizing that he will not be hired as a bus driver again because of the criminal charges against him. The only way to earn a living would be to start his own business.

“Sometimes one has to start afresh. I always considered mechanic’s work as below my station but just as one must serve as a conductor before handling the wheel; one also must learn a new skill before starting a new business. I am thankful to UNDP for providing me with the skills to adopt a new profession after my release”,
says Bashir.