Policies for youth

Thursday, 10 March 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A new report by UNICEF providing data on youth around the world indicates 28 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in Sri Lanka. A shocking statistic that grows worse given that this report also suggests that up to 54 per cent of females aged between 15 and 19 in Sri Lanka believe that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.

UNICEF in its 2011 state of the world’s children report entitled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity’ shows that investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 can break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity. While the underage birthrate is lower in than the South Asian average, which stands at 54 births per 1,000, aged 15-19 it is no excuse for complacency.

Sri Lanka has an adolescent population of more than three million. Steady investments in health, education and water and sanitation services have resulted in improving and high survival rates, better literacy levels and improved access to safe water and sanitation. However, this is counterbalanced by teenage pregnancies, inequitable access to higher education and job opportunities as well as the challenge of raising their standards of life by gaining a higher level of social mobility.

The state of the world’s children report states that strong investments during the last two decades have resulted in enormous gains for young children up to the age of 10. The 33 per cent drop in the global under-five mortality rate shows that many more young lives have been saved; in most of the world’s regions, girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations.

Yet there are points that need more work. With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not possess. In many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked.

In the Sri Lankan context, education, healthcare and social recognition for adolescents is still at a very low level. It is almost taken for granted that adolescents are under family care and therefore need little assistance from the State. However, with changing lifestyle patterns, both the guardians and youth need to find ways to bring out their issues and address them at community level.

Adolescents today face a unique set of collective global challenges, including an uncertain economic outlook, high levels of youth unemployment, an escalating number of humanitarian crises, climate change and rapid urbanisation. Communities need to equip young people with the skills and knowledge that help them through these changes, the report observes, and policy makers would do well to remember these points.

As a country with a rapidly ageing population, it becomes even more imperative to find ways of empowering youth so that they can be efficient in running an economy that has to sustain them as well as the older generation. Sri Lanka in its march for development cannot leave these vulnerable sections behind for it is the future of all of us that is at stake.