On first August this year, I checked the United Nations calendar for International Days and the chart reminded me that Saturday, 12 August, 2017 is the International Youth Day (IYD). This day is one of the days I find myself very busy organizing community events, sharing each and every moment with colleagues, and acquaintances on social media and other platforms.
This is an important day especially when we look at various issues as well as the fact that the youth form the majority of the population. The youth have a stake in all decisions that are made today as they are directly affected by whatever outcome the decisions will being. Further to this, the youth will also remain to shoulder the burden that may be caused by the decisions.
Thus, looking at this year’s theme; “Youth Building Peace: The Role of Youth in Population, Health, Environment, Skills Development and Entrepreneurship”, I find it befitting. The current population growth rate is very shocking and has a negative bearing on the already depleted resources.
Looking at the situation of the youth in Malawi, I ask myself questions and cannot easily find answers. The lives of young people in Malawi and most developing countries is marred by; unintended teen pregnancies, forced child marriages, increased Sexually Transmitted infections (STI’s) including HIV, harmful traditional practices. With all these SRHR challenges, access to Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) is a nightmare. Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is becoming a threat to young people in the country and at the same time inflicts holes into the country’s social and economic fabric.
This year’s international Youth Day has reminded me of the OAU’s Africa Day which is celebrated on every May 25 each year. This year’s theme focused much on the demographic dividend and how African countries should leverage its advantage in developing its young, talented and hopeful populations. However, the quest can only be achieved if our government is ready to invest in SRH of young people. Provision of comprehensive SRH package to the youth is very critical to youth development, health, well-being, and other necessary elements that are necessary to propel sustainable economic growth in Malawi.
For those who are not familiar with the demographic dividend, a simple explanation according to UNDP refers to accelerated economic growth that begins with changes in the age structure of a country’s population. A shift to fewer dependent people relative to working-age individuals, accompanied by investments in employment, entrepreneurship, education, skills development, health, rights, governance, and youth empowerment.
My immediate observation is that the issue of proper attention to the health of young people is paramount if the country would want the youth to be at peace and even harnessing the demographic dividend as a way of promoting young people in the country. A fight against poverty cannot end when girls as younger as 14 are forced to enter into marriages, when there is a lot of unprotected sex among youths which leads to a lot of teen pregnancies and transmission of STI’s and HIV. In this situation government will continue to spend more and more money to provide treatment for STI’s and HIV drugs, not only that but large chunk of budget will be allocated to subsidies so that people are able to access services. This is not peace.
Let me finish by highlighting that, UN did not make any mistake to include the international youth day on its calendar, this serves as a reminder to all countries across the globe to reflect on how they can advance the welfare and rights of youth, this year’s theme talks more building peace as countries have recognizes that the current generation of youth are the largest in history and young people often comprise the majority in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, therefore considering the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace and security is a demographic imperative.
But my point is that the youth cannot be agents of change, the youth cannot be actors in conflict prevention and sustaining peace unless we properly set our priorities and place our emphasis on developing the lives of young people. Malawi cannot develop if no investments are made towards the health of the youth in the country. Happy International Youth Day.