TODAY, more than ever before, the youth require consistent support systems, quality education, skills development, adequate health services, as well as love, hope for a bright future and encouragement to propel them towards full personal growth. Every young person has a right to a happy, satisfactory and prosperous existence free from exploitation, violence, neglect and extreme poverty. An individual must experience youth to the fullest and, eventually, develop into a healthy, capable adult who will positively contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.
It is sad, therefore, that in many countries around the world, especially poor ones, Zambia inclusive, violations of youths’ rights are so pervasive that they further weaken the already struggling economies. This exploitation occurs in both private and public spheres where young people are too often the victims of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, psychological – and are used as tools of violence. This happens because conditions of constant conflict of poverty, inequalities, corruption and abuse of human rights propagate societal ills. What makes things worse is that many youths are easy targets for exploitation since, oftentimes, they are dependent on adults and social institutions for their development, usually not aware of their rights, and they lack formal platforms on which to voice out their concerns.
To realise positive youth development, organisations such as human rights agencies, the media, institutions of learning, faith-based groups, governance institutions, as well as political leaders and grass-roots structures, among many others, should always take practical steps to show that they are doing meaningful work to promote youths’ rights and skills development. All their programmes and projects must clearly focus on building specific skills in areas of ‘youth functioning’, namely social, emotional, academic, cognitive, behavioural, and moral competences, besides educational or professional/ occupational qualifications that enable one to be an active partner in development.
Promoting social competence entails empowering young people with a range of interpersonal skills that will enable them to integrate feelings, thinking and acting in order to achieve specific social and interpersonal goals. Complementing this important aspect is emotional competence – one’s ability to identify and respond to feelings and emotional reactions in oneself and others. Early in life, a person should ‘learn to know’ his or her emotions, how to manage them and motivate oneself, as well as recognise emotions in others and effectively handle any relationship in which they are involved.
Youths need to have cognitive competence as they grow into adulthood. This is the ability to develop and apply skills of self-talk; the reading and interpretation of social cues; using logical, acceptable steps for problem-solving and decision-making in all areas of life; understanding and respecting other people’s viewpoints on diverse issues and interests; understanding behavioural norms; and having a sense of self-awareness and a positive attitude towards life in general. Academic competence concretises all this as it ensures effective action in one’s endeavours.
Advocates of youths’ rights and others concerned with young people’s well-being in society should always focus on the dimensions of behavioural competence that can enrich their (youths’) future. The youth are supposed to be people who know how to respond effectively to criticism without engaging in violence. They should express feelings clearly, make clear requests, and watch their tone of voice, facial expressions, style of dress, gestures and eye contact. Mastering the skill of how to take affirmative action is also an important dimension of behavioural competence; helping others, walking away from negative situations, and participating in activities aimed at empowering them as individuals and communities should be encouraged among young people.
The ability by human beings to assess and respond to ethical, affective, and social justice is what is known as moral competence. It has everything to do with moral maturity, which the youth require for them to respect societal norms, rules and laws so that they can have a sense of social justice as they relate with others. The roots of morality are grounded in empathy, or empathetic arousal, and should be fostered by favourable factors found in environments where young people are brought up and nurtured. Therefore, empathetic arousal becomes an important mediator of altruism – as young people begin to care about the needs and happiness of others, including their fellow youth, in the realm of equality.
Promoting these competences in the youth will surely enhance internalisation of hope and optimism about possible outcomes. This is referred to as ‘belief in the future’. Having a future gives a youth reasons for trying to do their best and valuing one’s life. And as Government continues putting in place concrete measures, including pieces of legislation and necessary infrastructure that allow the youth to fully exploit their potential, there is hope that the country will have patriotic young people who will not be passive observers, but active participants in tackling Zambia’s development challenges.
The author is a communications for development specialist.