AFRICA PROGRAM POLICY BRIEF NO. 5
• Government and international agency policies whichare not youth-centered. Even when they claim to be,the policies often emphasize institutional priorities, notthose of the marginalized youth majority;• e social distance separating establishment gures who dominate government, community and civil soci-ety institutions from most youth. e gap is frequently vast, raising questions about the extent to which main-stream, elite government, community and youth lead-ers represent ordinary youth;• e strong tendency to equate “youth” with male youthappears to enhance damaging stereotypes of males as po-tentially dangerous and of females as virtually invisible.Unprecedented numbers of young people in weak and war-torn African nations, in short, tend to be character-ized by the gap between what most youth need and whatgovernments and international donors think they need,not to mention what they actually get. e situation thuscalls out for a re-think of current approaches to the youthchallenge in war-aected Africa.
One of the reasons that youth challenges are so dicult toaddress is the lack of agreement about exactly who youthare. ere are at least four reasons for this:
the reliance on age ranges invites confusion. eUnited Nations (UN), for example, denes youth as peo-ple between ages 15 and 24. Yet this denition overlapsand conicts with UN denitions for other categories of young people (see Table 1, above): Adding to the confusion is the fact that African mem-ber states, and citizens of those states, often have entirely separate age ranges for youth. e African Union (AU),for example, denes both “youth” and “young people”as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years”(African Union 2006: 3).
the trend to equate “youth” mainly with maleyouth is almost as common in international agencies asin African societies. It is complicated by the fact that theimplicit meanings of “youth” and “gender” in the devel-opment world tend to be exclusive. is is illustrated by the following comment from a veteran Western donorocial. “When you talk about gender,” the ocial re-marked, “you’re talking about women and girls, whileyouth is largely about young men. In practice, that’s whatthe terms mean.”
, being a youth is about much more than age.In many cultures, the time of being a youth is situatedbetween childhood and adulthood. e term capturesthat stage of life when preparations for becoming an adultman or woman take place. In much of Africa and wellbeyond, gaining adulthood rst requires a formal, recog-nized marriage and having children. But before this canhappen, male youth usually must meet specic marriageprerequisites, such as land ownership, a job with a stableincome, a house, or payment of a bride price consisting of livestock or cash. Many males never achieve any of theseprerequisites in their lifetimes. Female youth, meanwhile,must wait until someone seeks to marry them. But whatif no one does?
, the youth identity is increasingly hard to es-cape. It is so dicult, in Africa and elsewhere, that new terms have been invented to characterize the trap that
Child0-17 or 0-14 Adolescent10-19Teenager13-19 Young Adult20-24 Youth15-24
United Nations Definitions of Young People by Age