Statement by Mrs. Faith Innerarity
Director of Social Security
Ministry of Labour and Social Security
on Agenda Item 3(b): Review of the Relevant United Nations Plans and Programmes of Action Pertaining to the Situation of Social Groups
The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, affirms that the creation of an inclusive society is a fundamental goal of social development. However, ten years after Copenhagen, the process of achieving social integration still poses an enormous challenge in the economic, social and cultural contexts of many countries. Efforts must therefore be redoubled to ensure that all social groups, including youth, older persons, and persons with disabilities, have access to resources and opportunities to realize their full potential. This is the approach which underpins the social policy agenda of the Jamaican Government.
This year as we focus attention on the World Youth Report 2005, marking the 10th anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth, there are a number of important issues that must be underlined.
A major concern is the fact that the youth population in poverty is very high. The Report of the Secretary General shows that worldwide as much as 160 million are undernourished; over 200 million live on less than $1 per day and approximately half billion live on less than $2 per day. The majority of these young people are in the developing regions of South Asia (84.1 million), Sub-Saharan Africa (60.7 million), East Asia and the Pacific (46.5 Million), and Latin America and the Caribbean (11.1 million). The problem is particularly acute in rural areas as stated in the report but the poverty rate among the youth in inner-city communities is also of growing concern.
In many countries the youth are over-represented among the poor when compared with their percentage share in the total population. This is linked to the fact that average family size is generally greater for poor households than for higher income families. In the case of Jamaica, for example, persons under 18 years account for 52.3% of those living in poverty while constituting 38.2% of the overall population. Sixty-one percent of the poor is less than 25 years. It is within this context that reform of the social safety net which forms part of the country’s poverty eradication strategy, targets children and the youth up to age 17 in poor households for social assistance benefits.
It is indeed good news that globally this is the “best educated generation” ever, in terms of enrolment rates at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of the educational system. There is however, an urgent need to address the continued inequalities in access to education based on factors such as social class, race or ethnicity within multicultural societies, and rural urban differences. Similarly, although it is commendable that many countries have recorded a reversal in the gender imbalance in educational access which placed females in a disadvantageous position, rising male underachievement is now a major concern as it has far reaching implications for social stability. This is the case in the Caribbean where the tertiary enrolment ratio is now 70:30 in favour of females in the region’s main university. Studies have shown that in Jamaica higher male drop-out rates are discernible from as early as the primary level due mainly to economic factors.
The Report of the Secretary General directs attention to the fact that youth participation in the productive sectors of society is critical to sustainable economic development. Increased access of all young people to high quality education and training relevant to labour market demands must therefore be central policy objectives to enable young people, especially those in the developing world, to seize opportunities in an increasingly competitive global environment. Of major importance is the need for education and training in new information and communications technologies to bridge the widening ‘digital divide’ between developed and developing countries.
Entrepreneurial education, advanced skills training, and work experience for students or formal apprenticeships should also be integral components of strategies to reduce the high rates of youth unemployment. This approach is currently being successfully adopted in Jamaica through the National Training Agency which prepares secondary school leavers for the job market.
Children and young persons with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in terms of poverty and social exclusion. Unequal access to education, severely limits the job prospects of a young person with a disability when compared with opportunities available to peers. In Jamaica, attempts have been made to narrow this gap by implementing an Early Stimulation Programme for children with disabilities and special skills training programmes, including information technology, for young persons with disabilities.
In many countries, negative societal attitudes and stereotyping also contribute to exceptionally high levels of unemployment among the youth with disabilities even when they are educated and skilled. It is therefore necessary to conclude as early as possible, the significant efforts being made to ensure that these issues which impact on the rights and self-actualization of persons with disabilities are adequately reflected in the international convention on disability currently being drafted. At the same time, member states should continue to implement the provisions already embodied in the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
It is now widely acknowledged that youth participation in decision-making and policy formulation should be encouraged and facilitated as this fosters social integration and nurtures self-development. The society also benefits from the energy and creativity of young people who bring different perspectives to the analysis of issues. This has been clearly demonstrated in the Youth Inclusion Prototype which forms part of a major Social Policy Evaluation (JASPEV) project in Jamaica.
While promoting greater youth involvement in shaping society and their own future, it is necessary to simultaneously address factors which threaten their physical, mental and social well-being and consequently potential contribution as citizens. These include drug abuse, illicit and irresponsible sexual behaviour, violence and other forms of delinquency. A stable family unit is the social institution most capable of instilling positive values among young people while providing the required support, counselling and supervision to deter delinquency and high risk behaviour influenced increasingly by media portrayals and peer pressure. In instances of dysfunctional families, state support systems are of immense importance in ensuring the care and protection of children and adolescents. The comprehensive Child Care and Protection Act passed in the Jamaican Parliament recently, serves to respond to such needs.
Within the cultural context of many developing countries such as those in the Caribbean, extended families are a central feature of social organization, and grand-parents and other older relatives also play an important role in nurturing, in the transmission of norms and values, as well as instituting discipline among the young. Simultaneously, there is sometimes reverse socialization where the older generation is introduced to technology and other elements of modern life by young people. Such interactions result in the forging of strong intergenerational linkages as envisaged in the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing and contribute to the creation of more inclusive societies.
In conclusion, as affirmed in the Copenhagen Declaration, “in both economic and social terms, the most productive policies and investments are those that empower people to maximize their capacities, resources and opportunities”. This applies equally to men, women, children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indeed all other social groupings. The ultimate goal is a society for all.