International Youth Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of youth globally by creating awareness about the challenges that youth face and some of the strategies that can be employed in mobilising young people to be active, educated and productive citizens of society. The United Nations International Youth Day recognises efforts by youth in augmenting a global society and engages young people in becoming more actively involved in improving their communities.
The world is getting younger and South Africa is a microcosm of this youthful and vibrant world. Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 constitute close to 1.2 billion of the total global population, and 87% of the world’s youth are found in developing countries. In South Africa, youth make up 42% of the total population and the youth population group is growing at a faster rate than the adult population group. This high youth population group can create new socio-economic opportunities if adequately empowered. At the same time, if not properly supported, it could result in social and developmental catastrophes. Today many youth find themselves in abject poverty associated with weak endowments of human, capital and financial resources such as low levels of education, few marketable skills, low productivity and generally poor health. Many young people are trapped into a culture of entitlement and dependency, turning to alcohol and drugs or a life of crime as an easy way out. On the other extreme are those who are at forefront of transformation, taking the opportunities that come with freedom and democracy.