UN World Youth Report

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Young workers: makers and breakers

Work is central to young people’s well-being. It is, of course, a requirement for income generation, but it is also a key to advancing broader social and economic development. At the individual level, a job has a direct effect on each person’s self-esteem, family life as well as relations with other people.

A badly paid, dangerous job at which workers’ rights are not respected will have a negative effect on personal development and relationships and will fail to contribute to the development continuum.

“The key to solving problems of social exclusion and poverty is employment…employment is the source of social inclusion in all sorts of ways, providing not just income, but security, self realization and self esteem for workers who are organized and represented”(International Labour Organization, Communication and Public Information,2000); such is the meaning of “decent work.”This statement, made by Juan Somavia, the International Labour Organization’s Director-General, to the Group of Eight Labour Ministers at a Conference in 2000, is even more pertinent today than 11 years ago.

Decent and productive work is thus at the centre of youth transitions into capable adulthood. The clear message from young participants on the e-discussion platform during week IV was this: job conditions for young people are difficult due to the economic crisis and, as Hasan from the Maldives said, “political chaos makes it hard for youth to be independent and live their dreams!” A lack of meaningful job opportunities (for growing youth populations) is contributing towards stagnation in the transition from youth to adulthood. For many cultures and young people, having a decent job is one significant marker towards becoming an adult.

Sadly, much of the critique of the perception of youth in Africa as “Makers and Breakers”(in a seminal book by the same name ) remains pertinent today. What is more, this dualistic view of young people as both innovators and destroyers is not just symptomatic in Africa (although it has particular post-colonial dimensions there), but it is widespread throughout the world. For youth, it has meant that opportunities to engage in meaningful discussion with policymakers, and to have a voice in decision-making, have been few and far between.

There are many examples of promising current work in the field of youth policy and practice on job creation and decent work, such as the work by Youth Business International (YBI), Ashoka Youth Venture, Spark, the Youth to Youth Fund and Edgeryders (a European Union-funded initiative), to name a few. Furthermore, various United Nations entities, including the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are all engaged in important work on youth development in general, with a major focus on employment, in close collaboration with other United Nations entities as well as youth-led organizations.

Challenges remain, however, especially real inclusivity and scale. But more than that, how we perceive new ways of working and living must be confronted collaboratively – through youth-adult partnerships and open minds. One such example on new ways of living and working was broadcast on the BBC World Service in November 2011: “The Great Reset.” This programme addressed the view thatopportunity, creativity and innovation arise from great economic crashes/depressions. Indeed, a comforting perspective in times of great changes.

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The UN Focal Point on Youth aims to build awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations, working toward greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means for achieving peace and development.

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