Putting a human face to statistics on vulnerable youth in Sub-Saharan Africa


This page in:

Around 89 million youth, ages 12-24 years, are out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2013, we went to Liberia to find better answers to this question: who are the vulnerable youth? We wanted to put a human face to statistics. Analysis of statistical data revealed that some youth are more vulnerable than others.  Rural youth, young mothers, ex-combatant youth, poor youth, and poorly-educated youth are especially at risk.

We met 19-year-old Moussa, who never went to school. Already a mother, she’d like her three children to attend school but there isn’t one close enough to her village. Alphanso, 25, studied up to ninth grade but dropped out during the war. He buys and sells on the informal market and also washes cars to make a living. He earns enough to get by but is worried that he would not be able to provide for his four children if they fell ill.

Beyond Liberia, such stories are echoed in the fate of the 89 million out-of-school youth who comprise nearly half of all youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps, even more dauntingly, in the next decade an estimated 40 million more youth will drop out and face an uncertain future without adequate skills to avoid the pitfalls of poverty.

While East Asian countries turned their youth bulges into an engine for growth, the same phenomenon spells a potentially explosive economic and social disaster for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Global evidence shows that efforts to address out-of-school youth issues require a coordinated approach that spans several ministries, leadership at the highest levels, and rigorous analysis to develop an evidence-based strategy.

Our report, Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Policy Perspective, focuses on 12- to 24-year-olds.  We looked at data and program information from Sub-Saharan Africa and found that six key factors characterize out-of-school youth:
  1. Most out-of-school youth drop out before secondary school, and many never set foot in a school.
  2. The prospect of an early marriage is a key barrier to young females’ education, and affects girls’ schooling even before they get married.
  3. Rural youth are more likely to be excluded from education than urban youth.
  4. Parental education is the single most important determinant of youth’s education outcomes.
  5. The number of working adults in a household, more so than income, matters a great deal in improving youth’s chances to attend school.
  6. Lack of access and low educational quality are binding supply-side constraints.
The findings are consistent with those from the Liberia study. These are not particularly surprising or even new.  It made us think: what is the best way to help out-of-school youth?  Why is progress so slow? The report gives policy recommendations that can be tailored according to a given subgroup of youth, across different countries, and for short-term and longer-term impact.

Three policy entry points are particularly important to address these six key factors:

Retention of at-risk youth in school could be improved through greater early intervention to get children enrolled at the right age. In addition, retention can also be achieved through a renewed focus on improving primary education quality and secondary education expansion (including private sector support). There also needs to be a greater awareness for the importance of education, especially for girls and rural youth.

Remediation requires reliable and longer-term funding mechanisms for successful alternative programs. It needs a greater recognition that youth must work to survive and large-scale coordinated interventions for youth in conflict areas. 

Finally, labor market integration requires the longevity of workforce development programs. There needs to be coordinated action between government actors, regional entities, private sector, and NGOs, and the removal of legal and institutional barriers to financing for youth enterprises. In particular, aligning basic education and workforce development curricula and pedagogy with labor market demand is critical.

Why has progress been slow?

Out-of-school youth are policy orphans who fall under the charge of multiple agencies.  For example, school retention involves education ministries, whereas alternative education and workforce development involves Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) agencies and labor ministries. Early intervention and social protections involve ministries for social services, early child development, and economy and finance.

The international community could make a difference by promoting out-of-school youth as a single-issue area, looking for coordination, and developing holistic programs that consider the constraints that youth face.   

One such program can be found in Mali where, after the 2012 political and security crisis, many youth with no, or very limited skills, found themselves in a situation with even more limited prospects of productive employment. To respond to those challenges, the government and the World Bank worked together to design and launch a comprehensive workforce development and entrepreneurship program to provide literacy, technical and entrepreneurship skills to over 30,000 poor and vulnerable youth in urban and rural areas. One of them- 23-year-old Traore- has applied to the program and is looking forward to being able to set up his own small agricultural business by the end of it.

What do you think can be done in your country to support vulnerable youth? Please share in the comment section below.

Read the feature story, report key findings, and the report.

Find out more about the World Bank Group’s work on education on Twitter and Flipboard.


Keiko Inoue

Program Leader for Human Development, World Bank

Join the Conversation

KP Sharma
February 03, 2016

India's problem-Source of Primary education particularly for poors are Govt schools which lack discipline & quality.Govt should encourage privates/NGOs for primary & secondary education.Employable Skill development need strong focus with active association of industry,trade and educationall institutions

Xabisa Ntoni
February 03, 2016

I think there's a strong need to increase funding to NGOs that specialise in working with vulnerable youth who are doing excellent work but need funding to expand the amount of youth they reach.

February 07, 2016

ln Africa good leaders are in short supply. You cannot protect and provide comfort for the vulnerable under bad leadership. When the world stand unconcern with the selection processess of national leaders in Africa, it provides safe haven for bad people to be elected as Presidents of Africa who preside over hunger, famine, poverty, rape, molestations and degrading human dignity living of the sick, poor, marginalised, children, widow, ophans, physically challenged and the minotity in the society. When you help people change their bad leaders and put good leaders in place, the needed change you desire for the vulnerables will come quickly and well.

HADEOU Amen Isis
February 10, 2016

I think that alternative shool is the key. But the root is employment policy. If those who are going to school and achieve university degree don't find job after it, there will be no interest for poor people to send their children to school. Because the process is long and it means spending money during this time. So if governments want to work on it, they have to adopt a good policy of employment. I agree with Mr Gabriel ADDO, it's a leadership problem.