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Global youth development – a long haul

17 November 20160 comments

A new snapshot of global youth and their social and economic circumstances has painted a picture of slow improvement and large gaps between wealthy and poor nations.

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Global Youth Index and Report says the all-round development of young people is improving in most parts of the world, though at a very slow pace.

Of the 183 countries considered in the index, 142 recorded improvements in their Youth Development Index (YDI) scores between 2010 and 2015. The gains were largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Central America and Caribbean, in that order.

global-youth-index-picIn the same period, youth development has remained almost static in Russia, Eurasia, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Despite making significant progress in the last five years, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the lowest levels of youth development in the world, preceded by South Asia and the MENA region.

All of the 10 lowest-ranked countries in the 2016 YDI are from Sub-Saharan Africa. As a region, North America has the highest level of youth development, followed by Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, Central America and Caribbean, and Russia and Eurasia.

Except for Australia and Japan, all other countries ranked in the top 10 are from Europe.

The index lists Germany, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Luxemburg, Portugal and Japan as the top ten countries for youth development while the Central; Africa Republic is listed last.

The YDI is a composite index of 18 indicators that collectively measure multi-dimensional progress on youth development in 183 countries, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.

It has five domains measuring levels of education, health and wellbeing, employment and opportunity, political participation and civic participation for young people.

The YDI is guided by the Commonwealth definition of youth as people between the ages of 15 and 29, while recognising that some countries and international institutions define youth differently.

The report says there are 1.8 billion young people on the planet – about a quarter of all humanity – and 90 per cent live in less developed countries.

Twenty-nine percent live in the Asia-Pacific region and 26 per cent in South Asia.

Of the five domains of the YDI, Civic Participation and Political Participation recorded the largest improvements between 2010 and 2015 at a global level, followed by Employment and Opportunity.

“Education and Health and Wellbeing registered the lowest improvement. Youth development in the Commonwealth registered larger gains than the global average,” the report said.

Collectively, there was a 5 per cent increase in the average YDI score of Commonwealth countries between 2010 and 2015.

“Aside from Pakistan, every country in the Commonwealth either maintained or improved its level of youth development from 2010 to 2015,” the report said.

“The three countries showing the greatest decline in their YDI scores between 2010 and 2015 were Pakistan, Angola and Haiti. Young people in all three have been severely affected by civil unrest, armed conflict and/or natural disasters,” it said.

The report revealed that deep inequalities in levels of youth development persist among countries, with the largest gaps being in the domains of Education, and Health and Wellbeing.

“For both these domains, the average score of a very high YDI country is nearly twice that of a low YDI country: Nearly three-quarters of the world’s youth population is living in countries that fall in the low and medium YDI categories, and nearly one-half of them are in the Commonwealth,” it said.

“Nine out of every ten young people in the Commonwealth live in countries that are in the low and medium YDI categories.”

Gaps between low and very high YDI countries are most pronounced in the access that young people have to education, health services, financial inclusion and digital technology, the report said.

“Within the youth cohort in low YDI countries, young females are much less likely to have these opportunities than their male peers,” it said.

“In a few areas of youth development, the scores for countries in the higher YDI categories are the same or even worse than those for countries in the lower YDI categories: youth-to-adult unemployment ratio, mental disorder and drug abuse.

“Youth development tends to be highest in countries where young people represent a relatively small share of the population. Among the 10 highest ranked countries in the YDI, only one country – Australia – has a youth cohort that represents more than 20 per cent of the total population.

“In contrast, young people make up more than 25 per cent of the total population in nearly all the 30 lowest-ranked countries.

“South Asia, Central America and Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific score better on youth development than their overall level of human development,” the report said.

It said the MENA region, Russia and Eurasia, North America and Sub-Saharan Africa had higher levels of overall human development than youth development, suggesting that the development of young people trails that of other age groups in the countries of these regions.

“Traditional indicators of development, such as governance and income, remain important predictors or proxies of youth development. Only three countries in the YDI top 30 – Costa Rica, Chile and Latvia – are not in the high income category,” the report said.

The report concluded that the state of global youth development could be said to be “modestly encouraging in some spheres and worryingly inadequate in others”.

It said some positive results included the fact that of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, more than 1.2 billion are living in countries where youth development has shown some improvement over the past five years.

Also, the region with the lowest level of youth development in the world – Sub-Saharan Africa – has recorded the largest improvement in its YDI score between 2010.

The current chair of the Commonwealth and the Prime Minister of Malta Dr Joe Muscat says the key to improving youth development even in low-income countries is providing quality education and training and allowing young people to participate in the nation’s political, economic and social life.

Writing in the report’s foreward, Dr Muscat said the global economic slowdown was hindering young people from getting jobs.

“This barrier must be reduced as youth unemployment simply exacerbates this economic slowdown,” he said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist