Supporting today’s youth, the best chance to end poverty tomorrow

Free education is one of the strongest weapons in the fight against inequality, benefiting everyone in society, but the poorest youth most of all. Photo: Dustin Barter/Oxfam
Free education is one of the strongest weapons in the fight against inequality, benefiting everyone in society, but the poorest youth most of all. Photo: Dustin Barter/Oxfam

The youth population of the world is the largest it has ever been: 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, making up one quarter of humanity, the majority of whom live in urban areas of developing countries.

Despite their numbers, young people are largely excluded from decision-making due to adult-centric policies and social norms and values that usually fail to take their views interests or voices into account.

They are grappling with serious social, political and environmental problems inherited from their elders and are the most vulnerable to economic crises. They are marginalized politically and culturally and will bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change.

Millions of them face discrimination based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, caste, religion, ethnicity, physical ability or the place where they live:

  • More than 500 million young people live on less than 2$ a day.
  • Nearly 126 million cannot read a full sentence.
  • 43% of the global youth labor force is either unemployed or trapped in working poverty
  • An estimated one in three girls is married before the age of eighteen, with some married as young as eight.

The undervalued potential of youths

And yet, youth offer many of the world’s poorest countries a demographic dividend”, that could be as much as 500 billion a year across sub-Saharan Africa (one third of the region’s current GDP), for as many as 30 years.

Young people possess the energy, creativity and passion to take on the complex problems they have inherited from their elders. They are at the forefront of many of the world’s emerging political movements calling for equality. They are demanding the implementation of policies that will close the gap between the richest and the majority and narrow the divide of power and wealth between the young and old.

Less constrained by ideological and institutional frames, they are finding their own solutions to challenges of unemployment and hopelessness. They have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions.

Today’s youth as the cornerstone of a future without poverty

Today’s youth are to become the motor of tomorrow’s economic rise and global fight against inequality. They form the generation that has the best chance to end poverty, stop climate change and ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) become a reality. They are already playing, and should continue to play, a central role in creating a more equitable future in which they can succeed.

But they need support and solidarity from their elders to help them gain the power, knowledge and skills to achieve these goals. Policy makers must make concerted efforts to enhance youth participation in policy making. They must also provide youth with quality education, access to health services and the help they need to obtain decent and sustainable employment.

Since 2014 Oxfam has called for urgent action to tackle extreme inequality, which threatens to undermine the last quarter-century’s progress in reducing poverty. Today's youth will be instrumental in finding solutions to this challenge.

It is time to support them as agents of their own future, and of all of ours.

You can help, sign our petition now