Today is International Youth Day. Last month I wrote a longer piece about youth for World Youth Skills Day called “Youth at the Crossroads: A Generation with Untapped Potential.” I’ll let that stand as my contribution to the conversation about the state of youth in the world today. But, I’ve been thinking more about youth and violence and I want to take the occasion to share some thoughts.
When I talk with NEET youth – those that are Not Employed, in Education or in Training – one of things that stands out in these conversations is the profound sense of marginalization that the youth express. They talk about how they perceive a complete social rejection in part because they dropped out of school early and are unable to find work, joining the ranks of “idle youth”. They talk about not having a place in their community to participate or contribute – they don’t feel engaged or welcomed, they don’t feel they are valued or even valuable. In “Youth at the Crossroads” I talk about the link between unemployment and depression, suicide, the erosion of trust and the weakening of social bonds and civic engagement.
Gang members in Honduras have told me that they feel they have no alternative to the gangs because everyone else rejects them. People scurry to the other side of the street in fear rather than walk past a young unemployed male. They are already assumed to be in the gangs. Youth in rural Rwanda told me that they live with a deep anger that comes from this sense of rejection. There are no social network that embrace and include them. Often times the youth become violent, but more often than not they become victims of violence – from their peers, their communities, their government.
For example, let’s take Brazil. About 30 percent of Brazil’s 195 million people are under 18. UNICEF noted last month that murders of children in Brazil have doubled over the past 24 years. Some 10,500 people ages 18 or younger are killed each year – that’s about 28 very day, a rate comparable to a war zone. In 2012 more than 50% of homicide victims were between 15-29 and 77% were black, adding a notable racial component to this. Brazil is the second-most-dangerous place for teenagers in the world, after Nigeria. One source of murder and violence against these adolescents and youth are the military police which have killed 1,519 people just in Rio de Janeiro alone in the past five years, according to an investigation by Amnesty International. In their report, they note that 16% of all homicides registered in Rio during this period were at the hands of on-duty police officers, with evidence suggesting extrajudicial executions in at least 9 of 10 killings committed by police. “Repressive police interventions [are] decimating a significant part of a generation of young, black, and poor men,” says the director of Amnesty Brazil, Atila Roque.
The level of mistrust and misdirected anger at unemployed youth has homicidal consequences across the globe. Recently, a video of a 13-year old boy being lashed to a pole and beaten to death with a metal rod caused a national uproar in Bangladesh. The boy, Samiul Alam Rojan, had dropped out of school to support his family selling vegetables. A group of men accused the child of stealing from them and filmed their savage assault to post online. Once it had gone viral, it sparked protests across Bangladesh. The thing is though, this kind of mob justice and vigilante attacks have killed hundreds and thousands of poor unemployed youth across the globe. Communities don’t know how to respond to the surge in idle youth. So, many respond with fear rather than love, with actions that further marginalize rather than include, with violence that begets more violence.
The world’s youth are struggling harder than ever to find safe and meaningful work. They are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. While youth make up 17 percent of the global population, they make up 40 percent of its unemployed population. Across Africa, it is 80 percent. This means that more and more youth have become vulnerable to trafficking and slavery; more have had to enter the world of work in unsafe, undignified, unregulated and illicit jobs in sectors like sex work, construction, domestic work and mining. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, half of all people in forced labour are children.
The world is a violent place. Too often we link this violence with youth, but we focus on it in the wrong direction, thinking that it is the world’s youth that are introducing the violence. The more common truth, however, is that youth are the victims of violence, both direct and brutal, as well is indirect, institutionalized, cultural, economic, psychological…and brutal.
Let us remember our youth today on #YouthDay, and remember that they are not yet adult, but in a transition period between being children and adults. It is our collective responsibility to prepare and shepherd them through this transition safely, to protect them from harm and violence and exploitation. Youth need to be engaged, listened to, and invited in to our community’s networks and institutions. It is not an accident that this year’s Youth Day theme is Youth Civic Engagement.
How will you engage youth today? What can you do to extend opportunities for civic engagement and strengthen social bonds to embrace our most marginalized and vulnerable adolescents and youth?