The National Youth Council Act defines a youth as any person between the age of 18 and 30 years. However, other policy documents define youth differently. The National Youth Policy of 2001, for example, defines youth as all young persons aged 12 to 30 years. According to recent estimates by the Uganda National Health Survey (2016/17), Uganda’s population is about 39 million people, of which 52 per cent are female and 48 per cent are male. Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world with 78 per cent of the population under the age of 30.
Much of the literature on youth transitions focuses on the move from education into employment. Yet it is important to also recognise other transitions experienced by young people, including transitions into private life and health transitions.
This article explains how the three approaches can be used simultaneously to adequately prepare the youth for adulthood.
Education to employment transitions
For young people in Uganda, the transition into employment is one of the biggest challenges yet it is a key transition between youth and adulthood. This has been attributed to a number of factors, mainly surrounding education.
According to the State of Uganda Population Report 2018, only about 2.8 million young people (33 per cent) out of the estimated 8.5 million were in school by 2015. With proper education, the young people can be easily integrated into the dynamic labour market. Entering the world of work also encourages financial independence and plays a strong role in establishing personal identity.
It is also important to encourage the youth to identify and choose mentors. They should then work with their mentors in formulating a life or career plan that includes the goals they wish to achieve by a certain age.
Private life transitions
While the transition into the labour market is an essential requirement for young people becoming independent economically, transitions in their private life are important prerequisites for breaking away from the family and consequently becoming independent members of society.
The main events when it comes to these private transitions include entering into social partnerships, moving out of parental homes and living independently. These transitions also present young adults with new challenges. The high cost of living in Uganda, coupled with high poverty levels (recorded at 21.4 per cent by Ubos in 2018), which have risen significantly in recent years, present a major hurdle and source of stress for many young people in a bid to live independently.
These challenges require young people to come up with new ideas and strategies of making the transition into independent living. They must establish their own homes and develop the ability to sustain functional social, familial, and romantic relationships.
Health services specifically for young people in Uganda are still limited. A 2017 UNFPA report revealed that “young Ugandans aged 15 to 19 face one of the highest HIV infection burdens in the world, with an estimated 570 young women newly infected with HIV every week”.
Failing to address negative sexual practices among young people can threaten their ability to save capital, complete vocational training and stay healthy and productive.
As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Outliers published in 2008, on the success side of the equation, a huge number of factors contribute to success that are silently acknowledged as important in young people’s lives: help from others with contacts, jobs, and other opportunities; fortuitous circumstances in the social and learning environments; and sometimes simply luck.
Therefore, in working with transition-age youth, practitioners, policymakers, and legislators must understand positive youth development and the importance of family, friends and community support systems.
The writer is country director, Every Child Ministries Uganda.