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.
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.