The United Nations agencies such as UNESCO define Youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. However, not Botswana. We have decided to adopt the definition agreed in the African Youth Charter under which a Youth means every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.
Apart from making Batswana between the ages of 25 and 35 eligible to become members of the Botswana Democratic Party Youth Wing does this difference really matter. Yes, it does, because Government programmes which target the Youth in Botswana have also adopted the higher number so that Batswana between 25 and 35 years are also entitled to benefits under youth programmes. These include preferential treatment through Government’s tender processes, access to cheaper loans, and entitlement to special treatment under agricultural and land promotion programmes.
Is this fair? An analysis of the age distribution of Batswana suggests otherwise. According to projections for Botswana’s population in 2020, an estimated 40% of Batswana will not qualify as youth because they are too young. Four out of ten Batswana are under the age of 18 and do not qualify for the Youth schemes. Another 34% do not qualify because they are over 35 years of age.
This means the number of Batswana who can potentially benefit from these special Youth schemes amount about a quarter of the population – and estimated 600 000 Batswana.
However, if the UN definition of Youth had been adopted then this number would be halved and some 300 000 Batswana between the ages of 18 and 24 would be eligible for the schemes.
Given the limited amount of money that is available, which is fairer? Should Batswana between the ages of 25 and 35 be treated the same as Batswana aged between 18 years and 24 years, or, as the UN feels, should the younger Batswana be singled out for special treatment?
By the time someone reaches the age of 25 years many life choices have already been made. The person will probably have completed tertiary education, would well be married, and have children. They are also likely to be in a job, maybe several steps up a career ladder. This is not the case of the younger cohort. Many of them will not have completed tertiary education because they had to drop out of school. Unemployment is the highest in this group of young Batswana and, because of the lack of education, they face fewer choices in life.
This scenario is being played out in real life throughout Botswana, as young people under the UN’s definition, increasingly join Ipelegeng projects because they have no other options.
We believe that Government should look seriously at the current definition of youth and consider lowering the definition from the high of 35 years, to the UN limit of 24 years.
This would allow the Youth schemes to concentrate on the Batswana between the ages of 18 and 24 years who are the most vulnerable in the job market, and whose career path is more likely to follow the track of poverty than prosperity.
Focusing on the 18 to 24-year old would make more resources available for each recipient increasing the potential for success, so that they too can walk the path of prosperity.