‘Young people will determine the fate of South Africa’

Launching the seventh African Population Conference on Tuesday 18 November, South Africa’s minister of social development Bathabile Dlamini discussed the UN’s new State of the World’s Population Report, and said the country’s predominantly youthful population had the potential to spur economic growth and social change. Read the full text of her speech.

World Population Report article
“Those aged 15 to 35 years, which we define as youth, comprise almost 40% of the total population,” said Bathabile Dlamini. “The youth are also the fastest growing age group in the country, and have in recent years continued to grow as a proportion of the total population.” (Image: Brand South Africa)

It is both an honour and pleasure to be part of this historic launch of the 2014 State of the World Population Report with the theme: “The power of 1.8 billion: adolescents, youth and the transformation of the future”.

I do take this opportunity to applaud the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the 2014 State of the World Population Report, as it provides the latest trends and statistics on adolescent and youth populations worldwide which then gives us an opportunity to reflect on ourselves as South Africa, how we are doing compared to the rest of the globe concerning the issues contained in this report regarding young people. Adolescents and youth were also emphasised on the two previous State of the World Population Reports, which tells how important this segment of the population is.

It is encouraging to see the presence of young people again at this year’s launch; this truly reflects the commitment and dedication by young people to actively engage and participate in decision-making processes that will shape their future. To the youth present today, your participation is highly appreciated.

I regard this year’s theme, the power of 1.8-billion, significant as it addresses one of the key issues that are pertinent to our own South African situation. Youth development is a key priority for the current administration.

This launch also coincides with South Africa’s celebration of 20 years of freedom and democracy. It presents an opportunity for us to reflect on the progress we have made in the past 20 years as a country in improving and investing in the lives of young people and more also how South Africans can work together to implement the Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan.

The mid-year population estimates by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) show that South Africa still has a relatively young population, where two thirds of the population is younger than 35 years old. Those aged 15 to 35 years, which we define as youth, comprise almost 40% of the total population. The youth are also the fastest growing age group in the country, and have in recent years continued to grow as a proportion of the total population.

This trend creates the prospect for a so-called “demographic dividend”, in which resources can be invested into activities that promote social and economic development, and growth.

The 2014 State of the World Population Report is significant as it raises a number of key issues regarding youth that are pertinent to our own South African situation. These include:

  • Economic participation and the challenge unemployment
  • Education, skills development and training
  • Poverty
  • The digital divide
  • Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including HIV and Aids
  • Power imbalances
  • Gender Inequality
  • Violence
  • Systems and institutions to protect young people’s rights

Given the predominantly youthful global population, the 2014 State of the World Population Report strongly advocates for investment in young people. This means that young people are going to determine the fate of this country. These are the people who will be instrumental in building this country towards prosperity but only if we invest in their education, in their health including sexual and reproductive health and rights, recognise the importance of their involvement in planning processes and make sure that they are given equal opportunities to develop to their full potential.

This point is emphasised by South Africa’s Vision 2030 for the NDP, which states: “The extent to which South Africa can take advantage of its demographic profile will depend on whether it is able to prioritise policies that improve the capabilities and life chances of its large youthful population”.

These issues were also identified as pertinent in the twenty year progress review of the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in our country.

South Africa, like most countries is also grappling with the challenge of youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in South Africa is estimated to be 36.1%, which is significantly higher than adult unemployment at 15.6%. From the scant data that is available on youth with disabilities, they are by far the hardest hit by unemployment. Among this group unemployment is high at 87% between those aged 20-24 years and 79% between those aged 25-29 years.

The government has recognised the problem of poor economic participation of young people and has put in place numerous policy interventions geared towards bringing youth into the mainstream of the economy to enhance social inclusion and cohesion.

Through the National Treasury and Department of Labour, we introduced youth unemployment policy options for South Africa with the aim of incentivising entities to employ young people.

The Department of Economic Development has introduced a short-to-medium term multi-pronged strategy that aims to propose interventions that provide young people with income and opportunities, and encourages community service and engagements around targeted programmes to enable entry into the economic mainstream. The NYDA has provided the Integrated Youth Development Strategy (IYDS) with the key mandate of implementing interventions geared towards the economic participation of young people, namely, youth work, national youth services, and education and skills relevant to economic empowerment.

The government is striving to provide an opportunity to raise the share of youth owned businesses and to support youth to engage in cooperatives in the country. Social entrepreneurship is another area that needs exploration in the South African context. It may be very useful for the youth development sector to explore and harness this approach in the quest for increasing entrepreneurship amongst the youth, especially those in rural areas.

The NDP is very clear about the need for skills development in promoting economic growth and reaching related goals. It says: “South Africa has set itself the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, growing the economy by an average of 5.4%, and cutting the unemployment rate to 6% by 2030. Education, training and innovation are critical to the attainment of these goals.”

We have done well over the past 20 years to ensure that practically all children who should be in primary school are there. This pattern continues in the early grades of high school. Unfortunately a significant proportion of each age cohort does not complete all twelve grades at school, and pass matric. We have seen gradual improvements in this regard in recent years. To refer back to youth unemployment: lower educational attainment correlates directly with unemployment. Collectively, the government, young people, parents, civil society, the private sector and all other stakeholders must try to ensure that our youth optimally use the educational opportunities that are at their disposal.

I also want to emphasise the need to promote gender equity, equality and the empowerment of girls and young women in all aspects of youth development, and the need to eliminate discrimination against them, including the critical role of boys and young men in ensuring gender equality.

Data on youth sexuality

Data shows that there are:

  • Higher levels of sexual activity among male adolescents
  • Significant percentages of sexually active adolescent below the age of 16
  • Increasing trends of multiple concurrent sexual relations
  • Increasing trends of Intergenerational Sexual relations (where a partner age is typically five years older)
  • High level of substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) especially among school-going youth
  • Low levels of consistent condom use during sex

Teenage fertility has been decreasing in South Africa, albeit the number is still high. Many young people still seek the services from those who practice backstreet abortions. This has resulted in additional risks and deaths associated with unsafe termination of pregnancy in young women.

Pregnancy and childbirth therefore continue to involve significant health risks for young women in South Africa, resulting in a persistent high rate of maternal mortality among young women. The fact that there are still high rates of new HIV infections among young women aged 15 to 24 years is troubling and calls on us to address the associated social factors such as age-differential relationships.

The sexual and reproductive needs and rights of young people with disabilities have often been overlooked. A number of studies have revealed that access to health services and HIV counselling and testing is problematic for people with disabilities because of the long distances to local clinics and public transport is often not disability friendly. The attitude of the health workers is often cited as a barrier to accessing sexual and reproductive health services for people with disabilities.

South Africa has developed several national health and related policy guideline to promote youth health and well-being. Generally, the current generation of young people in South Africa are more aware about the health risks involved in their choices about sexual and reproductive health and rights and behave differently to their earlier counterparts.

Chairperson, whilst we have made strides in sexual and reproductive health service delivery to our youth, through our constitutionally entrenched rights-based framework, we have also come to an understanding that the sexual and reproductive health of young women cannot be attained through the services that are delivered inside health facilities only. Social, economic and cultural factors, including education, employment, gender relations all shape the options and choices that are available for young women.

The State of the World’s Population Report 2014 provides us with the insight to realise that the pillars of youth development do not stand alone and independent of each other. It also provides us with the direction on how to integrate these pillars, in order to achieve complete and holistic development outcomes for and with our youth and adolescents.

We know that our country’s prospects for development and prosperity are inextricably linked to that of Africa. We know that we can only sustainably reap the demographic dividend in the country when it becomes a reality for the whole continent. I therefore wish to welcome the opportunity that we shall have to host the seventh African Population Conference next year.

The conference will serve as a vehicle to continue our discourse on the demographic dividend, and moreover because it will broaden the discourse for the whole of Africa, with the involvement of the continent’s top population scientists, scholars and hopefully many students.

I would like to express our gratitude to the United Nations Population Fund for their continued technical and financial support to our population and development programmes over the years. I trust that this report will serve as a valuable resource in influencing decision making regarding development planning and implementation of government programmes.

In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to declare the State of the World’s Population Report launched in South Africa, and in the same breath, to also declare the seventh African Population Conference as officially launched.

I thank you.