Discouraged by the lack of prospects for work in their home countries, more young people like Adama are risking their lives to find better job opportunities somewhere else. The UN special representative for West Africa reported that the attempts of hundreds of youths in August and September 2005 to storm Spanish enclaves in North Africa to try to get to Europe reflect the serious unemployment situation in West Africa.(1) According to the Spanish Red Cross, more than 1000 migrants drowned in the first three months of 2006 - a third of all those leaving the African coast for the Canary Islands.(2)
Young people in the Middle East and North Africa face one of the highest unemployment rates in the world - over 25 per cent.(3) In sub-Saharan Africa the proportion of young people who are out of school and out of work is 21 per cent.(4) In the transition countries of Europe almost one third of those between 14 and 25 are neither in school nor working.(5)
In many countries, unemployment rates among young women are higher than among young men. Many of women's economic activities are not paid or accounted for, especially in rural areas where traditional family-based forms of production predominate. Because women are often discriminated against in the formal job market, they are likely to take on informal sector work in trade and retail, often crossing borders to purchase or sell their merchandise.
Most young people who have jobs are in the informal sector, working long hours for little pay: in Africa and Latin America, over 90 per cent of all new jobs for youth workers are in the informal economy.6 And worldwide, 59 million young people between 15 and 18 work in hazardous conditions.7 Some of the more-educated, urban young people are finding new opportunities in internet cafes and related services.
Migrants often fill jobs at the lowest end of the labour market, or jobs that nationals are not willing to do. Richer countries have completed the "demographic transition"; that is, they have moved from high birth and mortality rates to low fertility and extended life-spans. The result is an aging population with fewer workers to pay the taxes, social security benefits and other services on which the quality of life of an expanding group of older people depends. To help maintain both social services and economic productivity, young workers from abroad are and will continue to be needed.
However, countries should also create jobs so that young people do not feel they have to move to find work. Governments, in cooperation with international development partners, need to act on commitments made in the Millennium Declaration to "develop and implement strategies that give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent and productive work." Increased investments are needed in education and vocational training; employment creation for young women and young men should be at the centre of macro-economic policies.