The National Youth Policy (2013) defines youth as all persons from age 10 to 35 years regardless of their sex, race, education, culture, religion, economic, marital and physical status. It recognizes that youth is a definitive social entity that has its own specific problems, concerns, needs, and aspirations. It must be mentioned here that the definition of youth has continuously changed variably in response to political, economic and social perspectives.
The youth profile in Malawi indicates that out of the population of 13.1 million (Population and Housing Census, 2008) more than 40% are persons aged 10 to 35 years. Literacy rate within this age bracket is estimated at 81.8% with slightly more males (86.6%) than females (77%) being literate.
Although youth constitute a significant proportion of the population, they lack basic opportunities that would enable them develop to their full potential. This has been compounded by the presence of a range of adverse conditions that impinge on the youth; the most perverse, being poverty. The IHS (2011) estimates that 50.7% of the population lives below poverty line and 25% being ultra-poor. Considering that youth constitute more than 40% of the population it can be safely concluded that the majority of the poor are also youth.
With respect to the percentage of the youth aged 15-24 who were unemployed over period 2005-2011, two things are noteworthy. First, the youth unemployment rate rose from 13 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2011. These low unemployment rates mask a lot of underemployment. Second, the youth unemployment rates were higher than those for the entire population. The formal employment sector was only able to create about 30,000 jobs per year against 300, 000 (educated and semi-educated) new entrants into the job market. This is a clear indication that the formal sector is failing to absorb all the employable youth, hence the need to create other avenues through the non-formal sector to complement the formal sector (IHS2, 2005; IHS3, 2011).
The absence of clear strategies on how to tackle youth issues (the old policy did not have clear strategies and a detailed implementation plan on this) has also resulted in the absence of comprehensive programs beneficial to the youth. Above all, the youth have not been actively and meaningfully involved in decision making on issues which affect them. This is happening at a time when the youth are becoming increasingly vulnerable in the following areas:
- Unemployment: labour participation rate in the 15-24 year age bracket is at 13% for males and 17% for females. Nearly two thirds of young offenders are unemployed when they get arrested (WMS, 2011)
- Early marriage and teenage pregnancy: 26% of 15-19 year old adolescents will already have begun child bearing making themselves more vulnerable to maternal deaths. 50% of young women are involved in early marriages. (DHS, 2010).
- HIV and AIDS and STIs: It is reported that in 2012, NAC estimated a total of 66,000 new HIV infections among 15-49 year age group and NAC reports further show that 69% of sexually-active young people have multiple partners.
- Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse: more than 50% of the drug and alcohol related cases that come before the courts involve young people. In 2010, hospital records at Zomba Mental Hospital show that of the 1890 admissions received, 269 cases were a result of cannabis and alcohol and involved youth.
- Inadequate technical and vocational training centres: In 2012, TEVETA reported that out of the 300,000 applications for training it receives every year, it is only able to process 3000 an indication that it is unable to absorb all the qualified applicants.
- The high level of adolescent fertility in Malawi is a social and policy concern, compared to other countries in sub Saharan Africa. From the 2008 census, the age specific fertility rate for adolescents is 0.193. This means that there are 193 births for every 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. This figure surpasses the 2010 WHO African Region estimate of 118 births for every 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. Even from a random selection of four other neighbouring countries, Malawi has the highest adolescent fertility rate. Thus on average, a Malawian adolescent girl would bear one child by the time she completes her adolescence.)” Youth and Children Analytical Report, NSO, 2008)