Over the last years, the issue of youth have received greater attention in Ethiopia and the government has started to implement policies to support young people. The National Youth Policy of Ethiopia marks a major step in recognising and promoting the rights of young people in the country. Established in 2004, the policy aims “to bring about the active participation of youth in the building of a democratic system and good governance as well as in the economic, social and cultural activities […] and to enable them to fairly benefit from the results.” It envisions youth as “a young generation with democratic outlook and ideals, equipped with knowledge and professional skills”. A wide range of priority areas of action are identified, including democracy and good governance, health, education and training, as well as culture, sport and entertainment.
The National Youth Policy recognises the need for inter-ministerial cooperation: the development of the National Youth Policy is thus coordinated by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and implemented with the support of diverse stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, as well as NGOs and youth federations. Yet, the government still faces some challenges implementing the National Youth Policy, such as weak monitoring and evaluation tools, lack of inter-sectoral cooperation, limited financial resources and absence of a clear strategy at the different territorial levels.
Although Ethiopia has made significant progress on the access to basic health facilities, young people still face a number of health challenges, including inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health information/services, malnutrition, prevalence of HIV/AIDS, substance abuse (particularly khat, tobacco, alcohol and drug use) and persistent gender inequalities. Young women represent a high-risk group in Ethiopia, being especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early marriage and other harmful traditional practices. In 2011, about 41 per cent of Ethiopian women aged 20-24 were married by the age of 18 (UNFPA). In certain regions of Ethiopia, such as the Amhara region, rates of child marriage are among the highest in the world at about 56 per cent of the girls being married by age 18 and one out of four having given birth by age 18. Although the adolescent fertility rate has significantly decreased, it remains high at 56.6 per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in 2015. Therefore, young women are exposed to high rates of maternal injury and death due to childbirth without skilled assistance and unsafe abortion. Additionally, teenage pregnancy and early child bearing are more prevalent in rural than in urban areas and are largely observed among the less educated and poorest young women.
With regard to sexually transmitted infections, disparities persist for young people, particularly for young women in rural areas. The average usage of modern methods of contraception remains low and only few young people take advantage of voluntary HIV testing and/or counselling services. Although Ethiopia has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in East Africa, there are still more than one million people estimated to be living with HIV: according to the World Bank, 0.5 per cent of young males and 0.6 per cent of young females were HIV positive in 2014. Additionally, HIV/AIDS prevalence is more than twice as high for female as it is for male youth. HIV prevalence also varies by location, with a rate being almost seven times higher among women living in urban areas (5.2%) than in rural areas (0.8%) (DHS). Education and prevention among youth are necessary to prevent the spread of future infections. In 2011, only 42 per cent of young women (15-24) and 74 per cent of young men knew a condom source (UNFPA), while only one-quarter of young women and less than one-third of you men had a comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Increased skills and knowledge on health risks but also socio-economic, cultural and health structures can enable Ethiopia's youth to overcome inequality, discrimination, and abuse of the society's most vulnerable groups.
Ethiopia has made progress in improving youth’s education, especially regarding formal education attendance and literacy rates. The measures of both gross and net enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education show a massive improvement in access to education. From 2005 to 2014 the net enrolment rate in primary schools rose from 60.5 per cent to 85.85 per cent (UNESCO). The literacy rate of people aged 15-24 years is estimated to have reached the level of 69.48 per cent in 2015.
However, low levels of education quality and high drop-out rates, as well as gender and rural-urban disparities remain major challenges for the achievement of universal basic education and a smooth school-to-work transition. The proportions of young people who attained post-secondary education and training are very small. Even though secondary school enrolment rose from 13% in 1999 to 36% in 2012, Ethiopia has the world’s third-largest out-of-school population. The results of the Welfare Monitoring surveys show that more than half of those who did not attend formal education attributed the reason to family unwillingness. This suggests that the government should work more on changing society’s perceptions of formal education. Particularly ethnic minority groups, youth from rural areas, girls and young people from poor households face major obstacles in accessing basic education. The probability of having no access to basic education is twice as high for female as for male youth. Similarly, reading proficiency is very limited in rural areas compared to urban areas: according to the results of the Young Lives survey, 85 per cent of the boys in rural areas were proficient in reading in 2013, compared to only 58 per cent in rural areas. Furthermore, low quality of education in terms of poor physical facilities, lack of well-trained teachers, and shortage of learning materials, exacerbate the problems of the educational system. According to the World Bank, Ethiopia spent 26.3% of its government expenditure and 4.5% of its GDP on education provision in 2013.
Over the last decade, there have been noteworthy improvements on the labour market. Wages increased significantly, while the level of unemployment decreased from 18 per cent in 2004 to 14.4 per cent in 2013 (National Labour Force Survey). However, youth still face precarious conditions in the labour market. Almost three-quarters of youth earn below the average monthly wage, while the majority of employed young people work in the informal sector or as unpaid family workers. Nearly one quarter of the employed youth worked in the informal sector in 2013 (NLFS), particularly young people aged 15-19 who have no bargaining power. In addition, the labour force participation of youth is strongly determined by geographical, socio-economic and gender disparities. Ethiopian young women are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as young men. Beside high gender inequality, a strong duality between rural and urban areas characterises youth employment in Ethiopia. In rural areas, young people leave school at a very early age and start to work in subsistence agriculture: low labour income, large underemployment, and limited chances to enter the formal sector mark their working life. On the other hand, in urban areas, youth face higher rates of unemployment, strong disadvantages compared to adults, and a school-to-work transition that is more than twice as long as in rural areas. This reflects the rural-urban migrations of unskilled young workers as well as of newly graduate who are seeking job opportunities in the urban economic centres.
In this context, the vast majority of young Ethiopians suffer from a lack of access to high-quality education, decent formal sector employment, and governmental employment programs. The demand for technical and vocational education and training programs is high, since the skills developed in Ethiopian schools do not match the needs of the national labour market.
Ethiopia's youth has the potential to play a significant role in the country’s socio-economic and political development. The National Youth Policy (2004) recognises the importance of youth, ”to participate, in an organised manner, in the process of building a democratic system, good governance and development endeavours, and benefit fairly from the outcomes”. Participation of youth is increasingly recognised by the public authorities, following the government’s strategy to involve youth in decision-making processes. As a result, state agencies and ministries now invite representatives of youth federations during the approval of youth-related policies. Importantly, the Ethiopian Youth Federation was established in 2009 and is composed of regional youth federations, which themselves consist of various youth associations in order to involve youth in the development of the country at both the local and national level.
However, there are many barriers that hinder youth’s active participation in socio-economic, political and cultural life, including persistent gender inequality, youth poverty, and a lack of recreational activities. The government recognises ‘the lack of entertainment facilities; scarcity of public library services; and the lack of physical education training institutes’. Most youth have limited awareness of youth policies and there is little evidence that young Ethiopians are involved in the decision-making processes and the livelihoods of their communities. Moreover, participation in volunteering programs and use of youth centre services is still limited, especially for young women. Although youths' voluntary service is an increasingly common practice (the number of volunteers reached more than ten million young people in the summer of 2015), lack of financial, human and communication capacities constrain youth federations in scaling up youth mobilisation. Efforts should be made to support youth federations with necessary resources at all territory levels and to increase the number and the quality of youth centres throughout the country.
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