The youth are the hope and future of any country but in South Africa, where poverty, unemployment and substance abuse are rife, a child’s chance of leading a normal adult life is threatened by a number of serious issues.
n 2013, Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, emphasised that the youth are the future and the lifeblood of the province. She added that the Western Cape Government wants to make sure that by the age of 25 the youth in the province “have all the tools they need to take advantage of their opportunities, and are fully equipped to lead a life they value”.
These are lofty ideals, but in reality, due to a number of factors, the life chances of many young people are blighted. The Western Cape Youth Development Strategy, released in 2013, states that in the absence of positive ways to meet their needs youth will often engage in risky or unhealthy coping strategies like addiction, crime or membership of gangs.
They face similar challenges to those in the rest of South Africa and globally. Employment opportunities have declined, pressures have increased and more and more young people are adopting unhealthy coping strategies.
Among the issues faced by the youth of South Africa, and in particular the Western Cape, are drugs, HIV/Aids, peer pressure and teenage pregnancy.
The problem of drugs
According to the WHO 15% of the South African population have a drug problem which costs the country over R20 billion per year.
Gangsterism is very prevalent in the Western Cape and revolves mainly around the supply and trade of drugs. The gangs are controlled by adults but extensive use is made of school children to carry out activities for the gang.
An article on the City of Cape Town website states that six out of ten patients in drug treatment centres in the Western Cape are under 20 years.
Tik, alcohol and dagga are the most common drugs used. Cape Town also has one of the highest rates of heroin use in the country.
A 2005 study published in the journal AIDS and behaviour found that South African youth take part in unsafe sexual practices that place them at risk of HIV.
Most new HIV infections occur among young adults and adolescents. In young men, problem areas were lack of education, insufficient knowledge about HIV/Aids, attitudes toward condoms and the use of marijuana.
Many people have the notion that using condoms get in the way of sex, making the experience less pleasurable.
Adolescents in South Africa often lack stable, supportive home environments. They therefore tend to turn to their peers to gain a sense of security and belonging – a worrying fact if they choose to associate with a bad group.
Peer pressure, boredom and too much leisure time are factors that can increase risky behaviours in disadvantaged communities, specifically with reference to drug use/abuse.
According to News24 article, 2 000 Western Cape pupils fall pregnant in a year. Only about a third of these girls would go back to school and complete their education.
The three areas with the highest number of teenage pregnancies were:
- The Cape Winelands
- Metropole East
- Eden and Central Karoo
Investing in the youth
The main areas that need to be invested in to provide the Western Cape youth with the best opportunities in life are represented by five pillars:
- Strengthening families
- Improving education and training
- Increasing access to economic opportunities,
- Giving youth a positive sense of belonging
- Providing effective services and support to reconnect to society those youth who may have experienced social exclusion