A recent study conducted by two leading institutions – the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – found that roughly a third of Caribbean children live in a state of poverty.
Alarming as this figure may seem, it is even higher in some parts of Africa and Asia, a situation which effectively condemns a significant number of our young people globally to one of social exclusion and concomitantly a failure to have their dreams and aspirations of a rewarding and productive life stymied from the very beginning of their development cycle.
This is indeed a sad situation. According to the study, in 2009, the poverty and wretched poverty incidence among young people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the region amounted to 30.3% and 10.1% respectively. This group, together with children under 15 years old, is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.
The document also speaks to an increasing tendency to teenage pregnancy especially in the lower income bracket. Guyana, Montserrat and Aruba were listed as countries in the Caribbean with particularly high levels of teenage pregnancy with Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico and Venezuela topping the Latin American average.
According to the Report, regionally, some 16% of young people are not integrated into the education system or into the labour market. Put differently, these are people who do not work and are not studying, which effectively pushed them into all kinds of anti-social and delinquent behaviour patterns. One consequence of this double exclusion, according to the Report, is that it constitutes an explicit violation of the rights of the youths to education and also hinders the opportunities for the region to break with the trans-generational transmission of poverty.
“ECLAC states, more than ever, that a structural change in our ways of producing, working and innovating is urgent, and youths must be at the core of this change” according to its Executive Director Alicia Barcena during her presentation of the document entitled “Investing in the youth is fundamental for sustaining and boosting structural change”.
Guyana has made significant strides in terms of poverty reduction over the years, even though job creation continues to be a challenge, especially given the large number of young people who leave the school system at both the secondary and tertiary levels. The enhanced performance of students at the CXC examinations has raised expectations in terms of finding suitable jobs or accessing higher education and training.
One of the paradoxes of development is the difficulty of satisfying rising expectations, especially in the areas of job creation and finding gainful employment. The labour market, both with respect to the public and private sectors, is not in a position to absorb the volume of new entrants into the labour market, which makes it imperative for young people to look for alternative employment opportunities outside of the traditional public service.
There is also the need to align our training programmes with the developmental needs of the country. There is currently a lack of congruence between what the country needs in terms of skills mix and training offered at tertiary institutions, including that offered by the University of Guyana. Most of the graduates are from the social sciences, when in fact more emphasis should be placed on technology, agriculture and the natural science.
In addition, new avenues for employment should be encouraged, including micro-enterprise education and life skills training, especially for out-of-school youths. The Guyana Government must be credited for its youth empowerment programme which is aimed not only at training in appropriate life skills, but also aligning such training with prospective employers, both in the private and public sectors. Hundreds of young people have graduated from this programme over the years and found employment at the conclusion of their training programmes. These are young people who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks but thankfully are now living meaningful and productive lives.
Unemployment has now become a serious global problem in both the developed and developing world. In the United States, it has now become a major issue in national politics with one out of every ten Americans unable to find a job. The situation is even worse in some European countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain where unemployment rates have reached double-digit figures.