November 18, 2014 / 12:05 AM / 5 years ago

Youth bulge could unleash rapid economic growth

LONDON, Nov 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The record number of young people in the world today could unlock fast economic growth in many developing countries unless lack of access to health care and education hinder progress, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Tuesday.

A window of economic and social growth occurs when the working age population becomes larger than people of non-working age and, as a result, the state faces fewer costs associated with children and the elderly.

This is caused by a shift from high to low fertility rates and from high to low mortality rates and is occurring or could occur soon in many countries, UNFPA said in its annual State of the World Population report.

“We have an unprecedented 1.8 billion young people, the largest the world has ever known and the largest the world will ever know,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“We have an opportunity, particularly the developing world, to take advantage of their energy, their creativity and innovation - to develop their economies andsocieties.”

However, in many poor countries, this “youth bulge” is outpacing the growth of the economy and outstripping the capacities of institutions charged with providing basic services such as education and access to the job market, the UNFPA report said.

Eighty-nine percent of the world’s youth live in less developed countries. There aren’t just more young people, their share of the population is also growing, said the report.

In Afghanistan, East Timor and fifteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, half the population is under 18 years of age, the report said. In Chad, Niger and Uganda, half is under sixteen.

Youth in many of these countries face major challenges. For example, lack of progress in health care means that more than 2 million youths aged 10 to 19 are living with HIV and an estimated 1.3 million adolescents died from preventable or treatable diseases in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

Another big challenge is education. Many children of school age are still not in school and those who are ready to enter the job market in less developed countries suffer from high unemployment rates, under employment or vulnerable employment. Over 73 million young people aged 15 to 24 were unemployed in 2013, making up 36 percent of global unemployment, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

GENDER IMBALANCE Young women are facing serious problems as they are more likely to be victims of violence and sexual exploitation than their male counterparts.

Poor or non-existent reproductive health care and harmful practices such as child marriage prevent millions of girls from getting a proper education and joining the workforce.

“They should get comprehensive sexual education...so that they know who they are, they know their bodies and vulnerabilities and they know what choices to make about themselves,” Osotimehin said, adding that sex education is controversial in some places.

Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Anderson

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