BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
1. Introduction and Definition of Youth
The Youth of the Gambia make up at least 47% of the population or higher depending on what age cohort is used to define youth. However, for the purpose of guiding targeted intervention and by setting measurable objectives toward the general development of the youth, this new policy, just like the old one, defines youth as the cohort of all young Gambian men and women of the population that falls in the age bracket of 13-30 years. Nonetheless, other young men and women, who falls outside this category of age bracket can be included in the programmes and activities of the policy in special circumstances. The Gambia as a Nation has decided to invest in its Youth for sustainable development by ensuring that this new policy takes into account the critical issues concerning youth. The global financial crisis coupled with the global food crisis makes it imperative that the Gambia look inwards and especially at investing in its youth in order for the country to have a viable future. Without a vision, well educated, highly skilled, a healthy and patriotic youth dedicated to serving their nation and taking their citizenship seriously, Gambia will be hard pressed to achieve sustainable development.
With the key goals of empowering young people to be able to harness their potential for self-fulfillment and responsible citizenship, the policy crafts a comprehensive framework for youth development. However, even a casual observation of the situation of young people in the country would reveal that the goals set in the last National Youth Policy 1999 – 2008 are far from being realised. Its review gave pointers to potential strategies for better implementation and also highlighted new areas of concern that may not have been of relevance during the drafting of the past policy but which have now become important and hence need to be addressed in this successor policy. The National Youth Policy 2009-2018 is a blueprint for Gambian Youth that will engage them in a serious manner in national development. The overall objective of this policy is to mobilize youth and get them involved in all aspects of national development. The policy also seeks to empower youth through participation and mentoring. Despite the fact that the youth make up more than half of the population they have limited opportunities for viable employment, education and training, skills development, and access to health and social services. There is also a high incidence of drug use among Gambian youth as well as high criminal activity when compared to the rest of society. And it does not help matters that the majority of youth suffer from the “Babylon” syndrome---migration out of the Gambia by any means necessary.
The youth live mostly in the urban area and are more likely to be unemployed.1 According to the second generation PRSP II/SPA II in the Gambia, the Gambia has a problem of youth unemployment which is estimated to be at 22% and a majority of them are classified as poor. Gambian male youth more than their female counterparts are more likely to be unemployed.
Lack of livelihood skills, low motivation towards agriculture still poses a big treat to the development of young people, especially where the incidence of poverty and hunger is high, as in the Gambia.
This burden on youth is made all the more heavier by the upsurge in the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among the 16 – 35 year olds in the country.2 This is important in the context of the new AIDS figures of 2006 provided by the ANC Sentinel Surveillance, which show young men and women are contracting AIDS at a higher rate than older men and women. The highest rate in the contracting of HIV/AIDS is amongst young women in The Gambia.
The need to work on all these issues facing the youth in the Gambia and harness their full potential and focus on the positive aspects of their lives, underscores the importance of this policy. These issues became clearer during the consultations and the NAYCONF 2008 that focused on the issues of the national policy. The results of the dialogues have resulted in the specific focus of the policy.
2. Situational Analysis
According to the 2003 Population and Housing Census, the country has a population of 1.36 million and an annual population growth rate of 2.74%.
The UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) report3 states that, the Gambia is among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 155 out of 177 nations in 2004 compared to 149 out of 161 in 2001. The 2003 Integrated Household Survey (IHS) indicated a poverty level of 61.2%. The Government recently developed a Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy (PRGS) for 2007-2011 that merged the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP II) with the Medium Term Plan, 2007-2011. The new strategy seeks to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty. The Gambia MDG status report has also further confirmed that poverty in the Gambia is mostly a rural phenomenon; the report further stated that urban areas (i.e. Banjul and Kanifing) have lower levels of extreme poverty (0.8 and 6.8) than the rural areas ranging from 10 and 30.5% in LRR and CRR-North respectively. Extreme poverty is reported to be lower among the urban areas because of the availability of employment opportunities, both formal and informal. Most of the rural dwellers depend largely on agriculture mainly groundnut for their livelihood. The population structure of the country has also shown that the country has a young population most of whom are living in the urban areas.
With a good number of youth within the child bearing age (15 – 39 years), the 2003 census indicated that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) remains high at 5.4 children per woman, although it has dropped from 6.04 in 1993.
This decline could partly be attributed to delay in marriage and child birth due to high retention of females at secondary level education and the expanded use of contraceptives.
Adolescent fertility remains a problem with far-reaching social and economic consequences. The 2000 Adolescent/Youth survey indicated that 41.5% of youth aged 15-24 were sexually active, with approximately 15% of sexually active females reporting the occurrence of at least one pregnancy. Unwanted teenage pregnancies may compound the health risks and precarious socio-economic situation of girls and young women, particularly if they seek recourse to illegal abortions and school dropouts. Most adolescent and youth have very limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. This is because sexuality issues are surrounded with taboos and parents do not talk to their young ones of sex and sexuality issues. As a result they resort to their friends and peers for information who are not themselves adequately informed.
The Government of the Gambia and its partners has fully recognized the potentially devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on the economy and the population. HIV/AIDS is an emerging demographic and developmental issue that needs careful attention, with new figures showing upsurge among young people (15 – 24 years) particularly among the female youths. The estimated prevalence of HIV-1 dropped from a peak of 2.1% in 2004 to 1.1% in 2005, while HIV-2 rates fell from 0.9% to 0.6% over the same period.
According to the 2003 population and housing census, the Government has put in place initiatives to achieve universal access to Basic Education for all school-going ages which has culminated in the construction and strengthening of facilities, abolition of fees in Lower Basic Schools and the provision of free education for girls. Female literacy stands at about 37% with male literacy estimated at 60%. Access to upper basic education (grades 7-9) has also improved during this period, with an increase of about 25 percent in overall Gross Enrolment Rate (GER). Parity has now been attained at the basic cycle level (grades 1-9). At the senior secondary level the overall GER has almost doubled, though the disparity gap between boys and girls remains high. Though school enrolment has improved, retention and quality of education and training for boys and girls at all levels remains a challenge. The 2002/2003 Educational Statistics showed that the GER for the whole country was 91%.
At the level of vocational/skills centers in the country, they are not evenly distributed among the regions of the country. Even in areas where they are available most of them do not meet the required standards and do not have the right systems in place thus end up churning out graduates who are either not qualified enough for the employment market or do not have access to micro credit facilities to start their own enterprise.
3. The Ministry of Youth and Sports
The Ministry of Youth and Sports has been in existence since the Colonial period, but always as an addendum to education. The Ministry has been re-designated twice over the past four decades and has been challenged over the years to deliver quality services especially with a fast growing youthful population. This demand for services and oversight has actually made the Ministry a crisis and intervention sector rather than one with a clear strategic direction and policy.
The Department of Youth and Sports, under the Ministry is the technical arm of
Government for youth and sports matters established in 1973 under the then Ministry of
Education, Youth, Sports and Culture. In 1997, a National policy for youth was drafted
and approved in 1999. The National Youth Policy (1999 – 2008) charged the
Department with the following roles:-
a. To oversee the implementation of the Youth Policy
b. To facilitate the monitoring of various programmes as articulated in the National
c. To play an advocacy role for youth development and creation of opportunities
d. To initiate the review of the National Youth Policy.
Set-up in 2000 by an Act of Parliament, the National Youth Council (NYC) is that arm of the Ministry that coordination all youth activities and associations. The Department of Youth and Sports has oversight over NYC and ensures implementation of its policies and strategies but due to the fact that it has not been functioning properly, that has had an impact on the implementation of the National Youth Policy 1999-2008, resulting in some of the policy objectives and plans not being carried out.
As noted earlier, the first youth policy was developed two decades ago—and a second one developed a decade ago. Both policies focused on making youth issues national issues with the just ended one focusing on mainstreaming. However, by the end of the policy the policy was overtaken both by national, regional and global trends. The Gambia had developed its PRSP II, ECOWAS had developed a new youth policy and the global trends have shown a sharp increase in the unemployment figures of youth worldwide. The trend in Gambia regarding policy issues on Youth followed the same global focus on mainstreaming youth which though critical needs to be part of a larger national investment program. The national policy did not take these investment issues into consideration, especially its key aspects in its preliminary policies and programs.
Subsequently, as the current policy was being reviewed the findings showed specific challenges were Youth issues are concerned. Key barriers, such as lack of economic empowerment, education, lack of sex education, jobs and other social and economic issues acted as obstacles in an effective response to youth issues.
According to the review of the 1999-2008 policy, the main concern of youths in the Gambia is employment— the youths are interested in any kind of employment including self employment The Youths believe that education and training are relevant and critical in achieving this objective of employability. The access to resources including land, inputs, loans, relevant training, and leadership skills amongst others are critical in investing in youth program.