Young people have paid an extremely high price for the fragile state the DR Congo finds itself in, especially as large numbers of them are uneducated, unemployed and with no skills. As a result, many have become dangerous delinquents
Reseau Menelik d’ONG et Associations Congolaise (RMOAC), a Congo-based network of 50 local humanitarian organisations, carried out a research to understand a bit more about young people in the DRC, especially how they see their future in this country. The project ran between April 2011 and April 2013. This initiative was based on the tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asserts young people’s inalienable right to the satisfaction of basic human needs, to protection, and to participation in matters affecting their lives. It also was responding to the African Union initiatives for the youth in Africa, recognising that young people’s commitment to the realisation of a new vision for Africa is critical to the success of their strategies.
The aim of this research was to encourage the government to respect and promote the rights of young people. It focused in particular on two main themes - gender-based violence and the promotion of youth citizenship - and sought to address the local dimensions of young people’s disadvantage across various provinces of the DRC.
PEACE AND STABILITY IN THE DRC
In the East
The government, African states, the AU, and the UN initiated lengthy processes of peace negotiations to try and resolve the crisis in the East of the country. M23 has been active in North Kivu province since early 2012. The uprising began with a mutiny by former rebels who had become part of the national army, but last year accused the government of failing to abide by a peace pact signed in 2009.
A few weeks ago, the rebels announced that they wanted to resume talks and this came at a time when the UN Security Council mandated the UN forces in the DRC to take offensive actions if necessary against rebel forces in Goma. The rebels seized Goma in an offensive that started last November and UN experts accuse Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebels — a claim denied by both neighbouring countries.
DEMOCRATIC ASPIRATIONS: PRESS AND INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM
When young people aged between 18-25 were asked about democracy in the DRC, the great majority said that the state of press and individual freedom in the DRC was a stain on the country’s aspiration to become truly democratic, and have a stronger economic standing and diplomatic position. They also argued that, despite domestic and international criticism of the flawed legal system, the government’s efforts to improve the situation have not been effective yet. There are profound political, economic, and ethical reasons for the DRC to improve its record on freedom and the rule of law. According to independent estimates, the DRC currently has the highest number of imprisoned journalists and individuals in Africa, but the government, civil society organisations and the international community strongly disagree about the exact number. This creates an antagonistic atmosphere that hinders constructive reform.
In the midst of all this the question of legitimacy following the messy outcome of the election in the DRC has still not been resolved. The gap between those who have and those who do not is still widening and caught in all this mess is 58 percent of the Congolese population, that is, the youth.
CHALLENGES FACING YOUNG PEOPLE
In a country where 46 percent of the population is under the age of 14, poverty weighs heavily on the young. Health indicators for young people are poor; for example, it was estimated that 18 percent of children die before their fifth birthday. Eighty per cent of births are estimated to take place at home. Vaccination campaigns were abandoned for several years during the war. A combination of displacement, low agricultural production, insecurity and the breakdown of services renders children and vulnerable young people to preventable diseases including malaria, upper respiratory tract infections and dysentery.
Both health and education indicators are likely to improve after the 2012 decision by government to offer free primary education for children in rural areas, but it will take time for these improvements to take effect against the background of a previously depressed context. In 2010, for example, it was estimated that only 50 percent of primary-school aged boys, and 43 percent of girls, were registered in schools; many children failed to register because their parents were too poor to provide them with school fees, decent clothes, and materials, or did not see the need to send them to school.
In 2013 it is estimated that more than 800,000 children have been orphaned, many as a result of AIDS, war and poor health service. Violent attacks, rapes, and sexual exploitation is on the increase. Perpetrators now include teachers, politicians and those that have the means to do so. Based on our findings, incidence of incest is on the increase, though this is impossible to quantify. What is certain is that many men believe that having sex with virgin girls can protect against diseases, including HIV, and this is believed to be responsible for the high levels of rape experienced by girls, including children and even occasionally babies.
Young people have paid an extremely high price for the fragile state the DRC finds itself in, especially since large numbers of young people are uneducated, unemployed with no skills. As a result, many have become dangerous delinquents and murderers, either as a result of being orphaned or by being displaced or otherwise forced to discontinue their studies. However, girls experienced the consequences in a different way to boys. Girls and women are victims of sexual abuse and other forms of personal violence, and girls are targeted in larger numbers than adult women. Yet women and girls who suffered this fate are met by general incomprehension and are stigmatised and denied the right to speak of their sufferings, while the perpetrators continued, with impunity.
It is make or break time for the DRC. At the point of this junction lies the huge challenge for the government and the society by and large, to reconnect with young people, empower and prepare them for a better tomorrow. Congo’s future is mirrored in its youth, the future prospects of the country heavily depends on the state of youth in the economy and in politics. Should we as a nation take the wrong turn and fail to create economic opportunities for our youth, we are guaranteed to experience upheavals in the future like we have seen recently in North Africa.
The state of youth in politics can provide a glimpse into what could possibly be tomorrow’s leadership. However, a corrupt political culture combined with a lack of economic opportunities for young people is a toxic mix that can drive a nation into a state of chaos and there is a thin line that separates from that tragic outcome.
The Congolese youth represent a dynamic 58 percent of the population and the country should reap the benefit of this youth but sadly at the present time this is not the case. The unemployment rate among the young is nearly 90 percent and half of them are 30 years of age or under. Only 1 in 20 working-age adults under 25 years of age has a job.
The correlation between unemployment and levels of education is not coincidental. More than 90 percent of unemployed young people do not have further or tertiary education, and many cannot even read or write and represent the future of the country. A dysfunctional public education system and the failure of the economy to create jobs condemn millions of youth to a life of hopelessness. It will not be long before this youthful energy finds expression in social upheaval and other destructive activities.
There is deepening inequality of wealth and status among youth workers with rural youth, young women, out-of-school youth and youth living with disabilities particularly denied their right to decent work. Congolese limited labour market prospects for youth are linked to differences in gender, age, ethnicity, educational level, family background, health status and disability. Disadvantaged young people are facing deepening poverty because of unequal access to economic and social goods and services.
With the global economic crisis, there are reduced opportunities for decent work and increased likelihood of labour market discrimination based on social and economic status. More competition for fewer jobs leads to increased marginalisation and exclusion of already marginalised youth. Young women’s transition from school to work is typically more protracted compared to young men. In the formal labour market, employers often prefer hiring male youth over female youth.
In our discussions, young women, particularly young single mothers, were reported to be more prone to unemployment, discrimination, sexual harassment and underemployment. Male dominance, early marriage and domination of gender norms that influence girls’ self confidence to work in certain sectors deny young women equal access with young males to the few decent work opportunities that are available in the market.
Rural and urban disparities in unemployment are quite acute. In some rural parts of the DRC, young people aged 15 to 24 years of age encounter the greatest obstacles to accessing jobs.
Due to the instability in the East and social and economic strife in the rest of the country, inequalities have become more acute, young people are socially, economically and geographically marginalised and excluded. There are no social protection schemes or anti-poverty measures to help them stay afloat.
The most important outcome of the research is the need for Congolese youth perspectives and recommendations to lead the way forward. To make this happen, it is imperative that a task force of government, social partners and diverse youth be established. The ministry responsible for the youth has been approached to turn our recommendations into policies or programmes for development.
The most important strategy advocated for youth by youth was to promote youth entrepreneurship and employability. Our findings suggest that national youth employment strategies and programmes must be based on best practices such as: developing national youth funds; holistic, relevant and cutting-edge educational, professional, and technical training focused on practical skills building; job market and workers’ rights information; and career counselling and work placement services.
All training and services must be based on solid job market analyses and needs with specific outreach programmes for the most socially and economically marginalised youth, that is gender sensitive and spread across urban and rural areas. Awareness-raising and attitude change in support of an entrepreneurship culture must be promoted among youth and parents under the responsibility of all relevant actors.
Private-public partnerships must be at the core of national programmes. Private sector partners (banks and industries) and other social partners must support financing for youth businesses and cooperatives and provide skills training and work placement opportunities, i.e. paid internships. The government must create incentive systems, such as subsidies, for private partners to hire young people. Information systems on tracking changes in the youth employment situation and opportunities for sharing good practices and lessons learned must also be established.
* Dr Theodore Menelik-Mfuni is Founder/Executive Director, Menelik Education Ltd, Centre de Solidarite Nationale and a visiting lecturer in Social Sciences at the Institut Superieur de Statistique de Kinshasa (ISS/KIN)
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