Cover Image
close this bookNon-formal Vocational Training Programmes for Disadvantaged Youth and their Insertion into the World of Work: Towards a Framework for Analysis and Evaluation (IIEP, 1999, 46 p.)
close this folderPart I. What is the issue?
View the document1. Disadvantaged youth in developing countries
Open this folder and view contents2. Disadvantaged youth in a global context

1. Disadvantaged youth in developing countries

The category “disadvantaged youth' refers to a common set of economic, social and cultural aspects and seems to greatly increase in complexity when it intersects other categories such as gender distinctions, ethnic affiliation and the urban v. rural regional specificities.

According to Corval(1984), the category 'disadvantaged youth' in developing countries refers to:

“...socially and economically disadvantaged young persons, who have either never entered school or have dropped out early in their lives, do not possess a qualified and relatively permanent occupation and have not had access to educational and training opportunities.” (p.3)

Corval(1984) adds to this definition a more detailed description of the social and cultural situation of youth in developing countries. Thus, he points to the fact that besides being greatly determined by economic and demographic factors, the behaviour of socially disadvantaged youth is also a function of cultural values and attitudes instilled by their families, or developed as a result of negative experiences they have had, such as dropping out of school or recurrent unemployment. Altogether, these experiences bring them to adopt negative attitudes towards life, lower their expectations and self-esteem besides triggering in them a feeling of powerlessness.

Family working patterns also have an impact on disadvantaged youth to the extent that they provide them with a model of people who have been relatively unsuccessful themselves. Nevertheless, according to Corval(1984) “work continues to be a sort of passport for young people to obtain community recognition, to become independent from the family and to finance their material survival and eventually raise a family.”(p.8).

Gender and ethnic issues

The 'disadvantaged youth' category in developing countries reveals some sharp distinctions when one analyzes some of the concrete training and working opportunities by gender. It can be argued that disadvantaged young women, besides corresponding to the general characteristics of disadvantaged youth previously laid out, also carry with them a culturally determined stigma which tends to hinder their social development.

Goodale (1989) points out differences between men and women in relation to the patterns of their working lives and shows how the type of training available has helped reproduce and reinforce the male-dominant structure encountered in the informal sectors of the labour market. According to the author:

“while certain problems may be experienced mutually, the solutions for improving the situation of women require quite different strategies. Consideration must be given to their specific position in the labour force and the barriers which inhibit them from gaining, on an equal basis with men, participation in, and benefits from, training and employment opportunities.” (p. 49).

The existing barriers can be translated into culturally rooted notions which circumscribe the social role of women to the household - marrying and having children. Consistent with this view is the one that education is less important or even desirable for girls. As women “are not expected to secure high-level employment, there is little need to provide them with higher education” (p.52). The major problem with this vicious circle is that women remain unable to qualify for many jobs, and families are unwilling to invest in the education of their daughters.

When exposed to education and training - be it formal or non-formal - young women face pre-conceived ideas of their career prospects on the part of teachers (Goodale, 1989) and are often 'streamed' into “courses which are essentially an extension of women's household and reproductive tasks - sewing, food processing, nutrition and home economics...” (p.52). Consequently, women have been consistently channelled into potentially less productive activities, which lead them to the restricted world of 'income-generating activities'. Men, on the contrary, often due to higher-status technical, managerial and entrepreneurial skills acquired during training, have been able to guarantee wage- or self-employment for themselves. Is there any evidence that this vicious circle will ever be broken?

On the one hand, Fluitman (1989b), based on the experience of LomTogo, claims that it is not so clear that increasing access to education and training, or widening the possibilities of acquiring a greater number of skills, will cause women in large numbers to take up activities believed to be in the 'male domain'. On the other hand, The World Bank (1991) reports on several successful programmes which trained women in non-traditional skills, and argues that deeply held social attitudes change slowly. Evidence from Grameen Bank's supportive intervention in Bangladesh - consisting in the provision of loans to finance women's micro-enterprises - provides another example of how culturally rooted male-female roles and attitudes in the family may be altered5 as a result of placing women in a privileged position (Yunus, 1991 and 1995). Furthermore, according to Fluitman (1989b), technical and managerial skills would not only improve women's economic activities, but also enhance their decision-making power at both the household and community level.

5With immediate benefits to the household - i.e. higher living standards for the children and overall better living conditions.

Nevertheless, the literature seems to indicate that there is still quite a lot of improvement to be achieved in the provision of equal training opportunities for young women (Goodale, 1989; World Bank, 1991; ILO, 1991; McGraph et al., 1995).

Finally, although women's access to equal training opportunities has been more discussed in the literature, in many countries, ethnic minorities are similarly discriminated against and prevented from taking on higher-paid activities (World Bank, 1991). Gender and ethnic issues should, therefore, be constantly brought to the front stage of discussions to the extent that they directly intersect with the disadvantaged youth training and work opportunities.

Urban and rural issues

Precarious living conditions in the rural areas and the low valorization of agricultural products have been pushing rural youth to urban centres during the past decades (Dirven, 1995; Corval 1984).

Life in rural areas is not so much characterized by unemployment as it is by underemployment in agriculture and other rural, non-farm activities which provide inhabitants with “a very meagre income and no possibilities for social and economic advancement.” (Corval 1984:p.6). Young people are usually the first to migrate to towns, as they face problems of access to land and credit. They are attracted by the possibility of higher salaries, better education and training opportunities in urban areas and often led by an illusion of better housing, health and transport services. In reality, newcomers are, usually:

“forced to settle in shanty-town areas of urban agglomerations where they eventually find some income-generating activity in the urban informal sector, by creating their own employment in trade and service activities that require relatively little capital or skills. Others have to accept wage employment which often means a wage below the legal minimum, job insecurity and poor social security.” (p.7)

Furthermore, the move to towns and cities on the part of the rural youth population has been followed by a change in their social and family patterns, and in some countries they suffer the effects of the disintegration of the extended family organization they used to enjoy in rural areas. This lack of support, added to the difficulties they usually encounter in the cities, often accounts for high rates of delinquency among adolescents in urban areas (Corval 1984; Blanc, 1994).

Turnham and Er (1990) and Goodale (1989) have also underlined the importance of social and family networks as facilitators in the process of finding wage-employment in small enterprises of the informal sector or engaging in a family business. It seems that disadvantaged youth, and specifically those coming from rural areas, find themselves more often deprived of this powerful resource.6

6According to Turnham (1993) recent studies have attested that the influence of uncertainty about getting a job in the urban areas is so powerful that rural people “usually do not move unless they have the promise of a job, even though that job is more than likely to be in the informal sector, probably at low earning” (p. 132).

Finally, rural exodus has been held responsible for massive urban underemployment and associated with increasing poverty in urban areas besides resulting in a mere displacement, rather than improvement, of youth's living and working conditions.