The hard, sad facts about our disempowered youth

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Katlego Ramanna, an unemployed graduate looking for a job. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Katlego Ramanna, an unemployed graduate looking for a job. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press


This year’s the commemoration of Youth Day marks the 46th anniversary of the June 16 1976 Soweto uprising.

While young people are celebrated on this day, they remain the highest unemployed group of people.

For example, in the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 24 was 64%, and 42% for those aged 25 to 34, whereas the official national unemployment rate was 35%, according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

Throughout South Africa, young people encounter a variety of obstacles. High unemployment, poverty, educational inequity, lack of access to mentorship programmes, and a slew of other issues obstruct the youth’s ability to improve their lives.

Despite the fact that youth employment has dominated national and international development agendas, little progress has been made.

The gap between the number of young people looking for work and the number of jobs accessible to them is widening.

Furthermore, there is a misalignment between businesses’ needs and the abilities of young people entering the workforce.

Due to a lack of chances in their chosen fields of study, many graduates are forced to work in menial professions that have nothing to do with their degrees.

These issues exacerbate labour market difficulties and prevent young people from participating actively in socioeconomic development and growth.

Youth empowerment has long been recognised as a powerful method of addressing youth unemployment and other issues. Many constraints, however, obstruct the spread of youth empowerment to achieve its aim.

READ: Reflections on Youth Day: ‘Wearing school uniform is not going to change youths’ lives’

The prioritisation and participation of youth in all levels of decision-making processes is referred to as youth empowerment. It includes investigating juvenile issues, involving youth in potential solutions, and developing focused measures to limit risks and promote development impact.

Despite the fact that youth empowerment has the capacity to alleviate the majority of the difficulties that young people encounter, its success rate is low due to a variety of factors.

These issues include a lack of sufficient infrastructure, lack of robust youth empowerment policies, a lack of youth empowerment activities, lack of young input in the decision-making processes of each youth empowerment programme, and lack of youth participation in the programmes.

Youth are frequently denied basic workplace rights, they work in particularly precarious conditions, and are more likely to work informally (97% of youth vs 90% of adults in developing countries, and 83% vs 66% of adults in emerging countries).

It follows from the above that the youth will become empowered when their voices are heard and when there are policies that protect and drive their initiatives.

In addition, the empowerment of the youth will be realised when they are given opportunities to take ownership of the programmes and when their proposals are implemented.

It is critical that the public and private sectors collaborate to establish strategies that support youth empowerment efforts.

READ: Seabelo Theledi | It is time to reach out to the village to save the country

The rights of the youth to participate in economic activities should also be protected.

Governments should take steps at the national level to protect and realise the rights of young people, while also involving youth organisations and youth-led structures in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programmes and strategies that affect young people’s rights.

Fobosi is head of the Unesco Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights, in the faculty of law at the University of Fort Hare.


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