Monday, August 13, 2007
Monday August 13, 2007 [04:00]
As the world marked this year's International Youth Day yesterday, the painful truth is that lip-service is still dominating efforts, if any, in addressing the challenges facing young people. To some degree only, we agree with sport, youth and child development minister Gabriel Namulambe that what youths do today will determine their tomorrow. However, it is also true that most of the activities youths find themselves in are equally dependent on what sort of government policies are available for them or their problems.
For instance, if government policies are oriented towards youth empowerment such as creation of employment opportunities, it is obvious that the picture of the future of the youth will be a positive one.
On the other hand, if the government does not design policies aimed at addressing the problems of young people today, their actions - no matter how undesirable or unjustifiable they may be - will be reflective of the very lack of policies to deal with their problems.
Today, although young people constitute a significant proportion of the national population, they are largely on the fringes in terms of their socio-economic status as their role in economic activities has not been given a central place, when compared to their adult counterparts. Today, it is not in doubt that youth unemployment in Zambia has attained unprecedented levels. As embarrassing as the statistics are, the government does not seem to be bothered much about this state of affairs, where the hopelessness of young people does not need the aid of spectacles to be noticed.
We agree with Abel Ng'andu that the high levels of unemployment in the country are forcing young people into all sorts of undesirable activities such as alcohol abuse and careless sex. Yes, while government leaders may want to cling on to the rhetoric that what youths do today will determine their future, we also believe that the kind of environment created for our youths by those in government is determinant of the kind of future young people will find themselves in.
If the government does not have a formula for integrating young graduates into the national economy, surely, should the youths be entirely blamed if they find themselves in undesirable activities such as prostitution? If our education system is so chaotic that it leaves many young people out of school as soon as they fail to move to the next stage, should we entirely blame young girls for resorting to early marriages? Is it fair to heap all the blame on young people who are just spending their time drinking all sorts of concoctions of alcoholic beverages when there is nothing else to preoccupy them? Our collective response to all these questions is a categorical no.
At the global level, the situation for young people is no different from that of Zambia’s young people. As statistics tell us, while young people constitute one fourth of the world's labour force, they make up almost half of its unemployed. And as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is advising us, the problems of young people will continue mounting without solutions being found if we continue looking at youths as part of the problem. What needs to be done is to integrate young people in all economic or development plans. And this has to be in real terms, not just for the sake of filling up some yawning space in the pages of policy documents. We say this because we are aware that policy documents have been drafted in terms of what has to be done to deal with some of the problems young people are facing today.
We need to start identifying key policy interventions or strategies to deal with some of the problems challenging young people. We know of the youth fund which the government has come up with in the last two or so budgets. It would be interesting to evaluate or assess the effect of this fund so that, if need be, adequate resources are allocated. Let us not look at expenditure on youths as a waste of resources. If anything, there is great loss to the nation in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) as a result, for instance, of youth unemployment because it means that a constitutive segment of our population is inactive. And if youths are empowered in terms of both formal and informal jobs, the levels of crime, alcohol abuse and prostitution are likely to be lowered and the government will not have to spend a lot of resources trying to deal with all these costly vices.
Of course we know that youth unemployment cannot be tackled in the absence of economic growth. But economic growth will only come with sound economic policies, especially policies that take care of the needs of all segments of the national population, particularly the needs of young people. It is necessary that the needs of the youth are mainstreamed in all our planning efforts. It is not enough to say that the actions of young people today are what will determine their future. If anything, we can say that the actions of those in government, insofar as formulation and implementation of youth policies or programmes is concerned, will largely determine what kind of future young people will inherit.
In short, and as Ban is advising us: "Let us all resolve to invest in and protect our most valuable resource, and give young men and women a fair and full stake in our society, and in its success."