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Having faith in Cambodia’s youths

Analysis
Richard Bridle

Today marks our celebration of both the annual International Youth Day and the launch of the International Year of Youth, under the theme “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”.

The United Nations in Cambodia recognises the importance of Cambodia’s young people to the future of this country, and we welcome this spotlight on the needs and aspirations of one-third of Cambodia’s people.

It is our duty to listen to those voices and engage in that dialogue, to include Cambodia’s young people in the development process and in the future of their country.

The UN General Assembly defines youths as individuals aged between 15 and 24 years, and young people between 10 and 24 years of age. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, however, takes a broader view and defines youth as those between the ages of 14 and 30 years of age.

Cambodia’s population iof young people, proportionately one of the largest in Southeast Asia, presents significant opportunities, but it also presents tremendous challenges.

Despite recent rapid economic growth, there are simply not enough jobs for youths.

Unemployment among youths is higher than for any other age group. At the current pace of job creation, Cambodia will not have the capacity to place the increasing numbers of young people who are entering the workforce each year.

Currently estimated at 250,000-300,000 new entrants to the labour market each year, this number is expected to rise to 400,000 in the coming years.

The significant numbers of young people who find themselves unemployed or underemployed are all vulnerable to trafficking, entry into illegal sectors and use.

Rural poor who migrate to cities for work are more likely than others to be homeless and unemployed, and are more likely to turn to criminal behaviour or to migrate in search of employment as unskilled labourers.

We know that education is one of the best options to link youths with decent employment opportunities, but access to education at all levels in Cambodia continues to be unevenly distributed between urban and rural areas, as well as between rich and poor.

Additionally, poverty and economic shocks force many young people to leave school without acquiring the basic skills they need for work and for life. Only half of young people complete primary school, and only a quarter proceed to lower secondary school.

And it is important to note that school attendance alone is not a panacea. The quality and substance of their education is what will allow the young people of Cambodia to take their place in an increasingly competitive region.

Education will also enable the youth of Cambodia to make valuable contributions to their country’s development. Soon today’s youth will be Cambodia’s leaders, educators, businesspeople and farmers. If youths are to become an engine of growth for this country, much more needs to be done to ensure their meaningful participation in education, employment, development and governance.

The United Nations system in Cambodia works with youths to ensure that their voices are heard and that their needs and concerns are addressed in our work. The issues and concerns affecting youths are integrated into each area of the UN Development Assistance Framework 2011-2015, and this will continue to inform the work we undertake.

For example, in education, the UN in Cambodia is supporting government to: strengthen and implement policies and strategies for technical and vocational education and training; increase the quality of training programmes through developing skills standards, testing, accreditation and certification procedures; and increasing the evidence base for monitoring equitable access to quality basic education.

The UN Youth Advisory Panel, the first of its kind in the world, gives youths an opportunity to become more informed about development, the United Nations, and our ongoing commitment to the issues that affect young people. And it also serves to remind us of the importance of youths to development.

The Situation Analysis of Youth in Cambodia, published by the UN in Cambodia in October 2009, laid the groundwork for future work in this area, and the findings of this study contributed to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s crucial work on the National Youth Policy.

Cambodia’s youths are the most affected sector of society in terms of coping with rapid economic growth and social change, but they are also the most resilient and adaptable segment of the population.

The UN in Cambodia will continue to work with young people as they strive to create a better future for themselves, for their families and for their country.

Richard Bridle is acting UN resident coordinator for Camboadia.

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