‘Youth’ in the Ministry of Youth and Sports

The Mandate and Core business of the Ministry of Youth and Sports is to provide policy direction and guidance on all matters pertaining to empowerment of Malawian youths and management of all sporting activities.  The Ministry exists to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate youth programs as well as develop, direct, promote and control all sporting activities through youth empowerment and mass participation in order to have a healthy and productive citizen.

Historically, the combination of the ‘youth’ and ‘sports’ has seen the ministry having a bias towards ‘sports’ as compared to ‘youth.’ This time, it is expected that the ministry will strike a balance between ‘youth’ and ‘sports’ to ensure youth and sports goals are met. However, going by recent media article, history might just be repeating itself.   But who is a ‘youth in the Malawian context?’ How have the ‘youth’ been incorporated in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS)?

The national youth policy defines youth as people between the ages of 10 to 35 years regardless of their sex, race, education, culture, religion, economic, marital, and physical status. Even though ‘youth’ is perceived as a ‘homogeneous’ group, the reality is ‘youth’ are a ‘heterogeneous’ group. In addition, the all-encompassing youth definition that covers person’s between the ages brings together people at different stages in their lives. For example, the definition captures person’s middle childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. The truth of the matter is that persons into middle childhood, adolescence and early childhood have different stages of  human growth and are undergoing different levels of changes when one focuses on their  physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality and emotional growth.

The youth group can be broken down further into youth five age bands of 10-14, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29 and 30-34 years. Just by exploring the life of a school going youth in the most simplistic way possible you will notice that a person between the age of 10-14 is probably in secondary school, 15-19-university student, 20-24-young professional, 25-29 university student, married etc., and 30-34 -married with children. The stages of development of the person’s within this broad youth bracket are vast therefore their empowerment needs will also vary.

Within the specific age groups, there are also subcategories of Youth living HIV, Youth living with disabilities, youth with special needs, teen mothers, LGBTIs, youth in Commercial sex work, youth within school, and out of school youth among others.  The complexity and the heterogeneity of the youth budge in Malawi demands for creating of multiple pathways grounded on group specific issues to achieve the youth empowerment the ministry intends to. The programming that employs a dual understanding that perceives the youth bulge as both a demographic bomb and demographic dividend in Malawi. In addition, the programming needs to find a solution that addresses the definition between a child and a youth.

MDGS III considers youth to be a cross cutting issue with no specific youth indicators in some, an approach that has been criticised by some because it proves room for youth issues to buried in this cross-cutting adventure. However, MDGS III makes specific mentions in the areas of education, agriculture, health, and population. MDGS III Youth Empowerment presented as improved quality, access and equity in education at all levels through the provision of targeted scholarships for needy students in both secondary and tertiary education, linking up training institutions to companies for hands on training, and establishing a national volunteer program among others. It also mentions the promotion of establishment of cooperatives; ownership and control of productive resources; agriculture education and technical training; and promotion of access to finance. MDGS III also mentions increasing access to affordable credit facilities for youth and creating job opportunities for the youth as a way of developing a skilled and empowerment youth population. Most importantly, MDGS III states that between 2017 to 2022 the government and various stakeholders will focus on increasing youth representation in decision making structures and politics. This will include the increase in youth participation in the economy through development initiatives at all levels.

The task that the new government has it to make every youth in Malawi feel they belong to the ministry of youth, and not just selected few, and also to realise the youth indicators in MDGS III.