An age of opportunity?
As Alphonse Allais pointed out, having money is a great help in coping with poverty. And there’s plenty of data to show that investing in basics like health and education pays dividends.
UNICEF’s 2011 State of the World’s Children Report shows progress across a whole range of indicators, including under-five mortality rates, access to clean water, and vaccinations.
The second decade of life has received less attention though, and without sustained efforts, the gains made in early childhood can be wiped out.
The 2011 report gives statistics showing that in Brazil for instance, the lives of 26,000 babies aged 12 months and under were saved over 1998-2008 thanks to various programmes.
Over the same period, 81,000 15-19 year-olds were murdered.
Global net attendance for secondary school is roughly one third lower than for primary school. Worldwide, one third of all new HIV cases involve people aged 15–24. And in the developing world, excluding China, 1 in every 3 girls gets married before the age of 18.
The report also quotes figures suggesting that around 1 adolescent in 5 suffers from a mental health or behavioural problem.
Other, less dramatic, statistics reveal widespread problems. With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern almost everywhere. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people don’t have, and in many countries, large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked.
Yet, the report argues, investing in adolescent education and training can produce a large and productive workforce, helping the young people themselves, and can contribute significantly to the growth of national economies.
However, in Off to a Good Start? Jobs for Youth the OECD says that young people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as the average worker, yet few governments are taking proactive steps to boost youth employment.