Get­ting Set for the Young

The gov­ern­ment in the Mal­dives is aware of the prob­lems faced by the youth pop­u­la­tion and is gear­ing up to solve them through prac­ti­cal ini­tia­tives.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Si­jal Fawad The writer is a free-lance con­trib­u­tor for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions.

Europe may be proud at the thought of hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of youth in their pop­u­la­tion. But this opin­ion about fa­vor­able de­mo­graph­ics may not be shared in coun­tries where am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties are not of­fered to the younger lot. Case in point – The Mal­dives.

A few years ago, the Asia Foun­da­tion con­ducted a study de­tail­ing the dire sit­u­a­tion of gangs formed by un­em­ployed youth in the is­land econ­omy of the Mal­dives. Ac­cord­ing to re­search – con­ducted via in­ter­views – there are mul­ti­far­i­ous rea­sons why peo­ple be­tween 10 and 24 revert to th­ese gangs. Con­trary to what may come to mind at first, the rea­sons are not just eco­nomic but also so­cial. With some gang mem­bers claim­ing to have found bet­ter so­cial and emo­tional sup­port within gangs than within their own fam­i­lies, the de­cay­ing fab­ric of the tra­di­tional fam­ily struc­ture in the Mal­dives is starkly high­lighted. This stems from the fact that bro­ken fam­i­lies and high di­vorce rates are a big con­trib­u­tor to­wards youth dis­en­chant­ment in their na­tion.

Be­sides this, un­em­ploy­ment, lack of pro­duc­tive ar­eas for the young minds to ex­plore, few in­cen­tives from the gov­ern­ment, drug use, the need for be­long­ing, peer pres­sure and even the need to as­sert them­selves, leads many young peo­ple to join gangs or en­gage in non-pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties. A vi­cious cy­cle is cre­ated as those in­volved with crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties are at a dis­ad­van­tage when it comes to em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and, with the lack of public re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and coun­sel­ing fa­cil­i­ties, their feel­ing of alien­ation and be­ing ex­cluded from so­ci­ety is fur­ther aug­mented.

The sit­u­a­tion has not changed much in the 2 to three years since this re­port was pub­lished.

In fact, mat­ters have been ren­dered worse in a glob­al­ized world where the youth knows and sees what a ‘bet­ter life’ could be. With the help of ag­gres­sively grow­ing so­cial me­dia and ex­pand­ing in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion, as­pi­ra­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions of the young are climb­ing north, while the lo­cal com­mu­nity, gov­ern­ment and the sti­fled econ­omy may not have a lot to of­fer. The re­sult? A dis­ap­point­ing mis­match be­tween the level of ex­pec­ta­tions and the avail­able op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of the var­i­ous is­lands in the Mal­dives adds to the up­heaval as the main is­land of

Male and the re­main­ing is­lands are in a com­plete dis­con­nect. In­for­ma­tion and new knowl­edge never trick­les down, costs of trans­porta­tion are high and, con­se­quently, eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties are quite skewed against the smaller is­lands of the coun­try, even more so for women.

In tan­dem with this is the in­ad­e­quacy of the youth in the labour mar­ket, with both sup­ply and de­mand of the em­ploy­ment mar­ket largely un­able to sat­isfy each other. On the one hand, the young peo­ple have not ac­quired the right skill set for a job due to rea­sons vary­ing from an in­suf­fi­cient ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem to lack of ca­reer coun­sel­ing. On the other hand, the job mar­ket doesn’t meet the high ex­pec­ta­tions and as­pi­ra­tional val­ues the young peo­ple have at­tached to their fu­ture means of earn­ing, thanks to the tools of glob­al­iza­tion dis­cussed here. As if that wasn’t enough, the health sec­tor adds to the list of short­com­ings, with a lack of pre­ven­tive health mea­sures and med­i­cal coun­sel­ing for sex ed­u­ca­tion and the harm­ful ef­fects of drug abuse. In short, there are nu­mer­ous rea­sons for the youth to feel dis­en­chanted and de­mo­ti­vated in a so­ci­ety which doesn’t ful­fil their as­pi­ra­tions and of­fers min­i­mum in terms of emo­tional and so­cial sup­port.

It’s not as if the sit­u­a­tion has gone un­no­ticed by the Mal­di­vian au­thor­i­ties. In Novem­ber, Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen Ab­dul Gay­oom launched ‘Get Set’ – a Mal­dives Youth En­trepreneur­ship Pro­gram (MYEP) to en­cour­age the young peo­ple of the is­land to start their own small and medium-sized busi­nesses. Soft loan terms and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance through busi­ness in­cu­ba­tion pro­grams make this seem like a work­able plan. How­ever, bear­ing in mind the in­ad­e­quate skillset of the Mal­di­vian youth and their high as­pi­ra­tions, hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant out­reach and im­pact from the pro­gram will take its own sweet time. It is an ap­pre­cia­ble step in the right di­rec­tion, which, hope­fully, will help the un­der­served youth in mak­ing more pro­duc­tive use of their time and en­er­gies.

The most im­por­tant part of the ini­tia­tive is that it makes the youth feel in­cluded when it comes to be­ing in­volved with their coun­try and the state. To­day, it is as im­por­tant for the young peo­ple in the Mal­dives to know that the gov­ern­ment, par­ents and com­mu­ni­ties are will­ing and avail­able to en­gage with them and sup­port them. For this, more youth-friendly mea­sures, such as cam­paigns high­light­ing the im­por­tance of youth and how to help them out, will ex­ude the mes­sage of em­pa­thy to­wards their prob­lems and is­sues.

It’s im­por­tant to keep ev­ery­thing ap­peal­ing for the young minds and, con­se­quently, un­in­ter­est­ing schemes and cam­paigns may not meet the need. Av­enues and venues have to be pro­vided on a larger plat­form for the youth to come to­gether and dis­cuss their prob­lems and re­quire­ments un­der the guid­ance of a few well-mean­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the com­mu­ni­ties and the gov­ern­ments.

Sim­i­larly, health ed­u­ca­tion re­lated to youth-rel­e­vant prob­lems will also go a long way. Be­sides uti­liz­ing health work­ers to ad­dress is­sues faced by the youth, the so­cial me­dia could also be uti­lized to en­gage them in dis­cus­sion about the prob­lems they face, in­clud­ing deal­ing with psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems and is­sues they face.

To ad­dress the prob­lem of an in­ad­e­quate skill set, when it comes to youth em­ploy­ment in the job mar­ket, steps will have to be taken to fill in the gaps. The gov­ern­ment will have to of­fer train­ing pro­grams in the rel­e­vant and re­quired skills to the cur­rent youth to help bridge the gap be­tween their skills and re­quire­ments on the job. At the same time, the school en­vi­ron­ment will have to be ren­dered more en­gag­ing for the up­com­ing youth and, for that, both par­ents and the younger lot will have to be ac­tively en­cour­aged to mon­i­tor lo­cal schools, pos­si­bly even chart­ing and record­ing their progress.

While im­ple­ment­ing all th­ese mea­sures, it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to keep young women in mind as girls in the is­land econ­omy of­ten face the worse brunt of all the is­sues dis­cussed here. Women em­pow­er­ment, women’s health and their con­tri­bu­tion to­wards the econ­omy and so­ci­ety must be high­lighted, to­gether with ways to en­cour­age them.

Youth ini­tia­tives must not be short­lived and all the points touched upon in the afore-stated should not be mo­men­tary pro­grams that die out over the years. The gov­ern­ment needs to ac­tively pur­sue mea­sures to reach out to the youth, en­sure con­ti­nu­ity and be col­lab­o­ra­tive and en­gag­ing with them to fully uti­lize this young and po­tent force for the bet­ter­ment of so­ci­ety.

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