Helping hand for Timor-Leste youth

A landmark policy blueprint for Timor-Leste’s social and economic development is rolling out, backed by Flinders University expertise.

The ‘Timor-Leste 2018 National Human Development Report: Preparing the Opportunities for a Youthful Population’ report, based on supporting the booming youth population in this emerging nation, has been unveiled by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The 4th National Human Development Report is the result of a two-year collaboration between Flinders University, the Government of Timor-Leste and the UNDP.

The report’s lead author, Associate Professor Udoy Saikia, says the project is an important example of Flinders expanding its global reach through high-quality collaborations.

“The Timor-Leste Government’s acceptance of the report marks an important step in the nation-building process underway in Asia’s newest nation. It presents an important model for other emerging nations with youth, economic and social challenges to follow,” says demographer Associate Professor Saikia, from the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

The report – which also has input from Flinders Associate Professor Gour Dasvarma, Dr Merve Hosgelen and Dr James Chalmers as principal authors – is a crucial pathfinder for a country with one of the youngest populations in the Asia and Pacific region.

With a median age of 17.4 years, the population below age 35 years old accounts for 74 per cent of the total population.

The report collates a representative sample of Timor-Leste’s youth population across the country’s regions, conducted down to village level by trained local researchers, and it responds to their development aspirations.

“The youth of Timor-Leste are at the heart of this work,” says Associate Professor Saikia.

“In the process of producing this report, we consulted with them at various stages of the project.

“I sincerely hope that they will take ownership of it, and of our findings, in bringing their dreams for the future to reality.”

The challenges ahead are significant.

About 20,000 young Timor-Leste people join the labor force each year, but only about 2000 new job opportunities each year exist in the formal economy.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Timor-Leste Mr Roy Trivedi, and Mr Adriano do Nascimento, the Minister for Council of Minister, Government of Timor-Leste, with Associate Professor Saikia at the report’s launch.

Associate Professor Saikia says Timor-Leste shows the typical demographic “bulge” representing large numbers of young people in the populations of developing countries following independence.

In the face of poverty and unemployment, this bulge can lead to social unrest and conflict but with smart policy and social initiatives, it can also be transformed into a growing asset for the young nation.

This is the pivot of the report – identifying appropriate sectors for development and job creation that will best help the youth demographic.

Training is a focus, even in unconventional areas such as new types of localised training institutions outside Dili to help generate and facilitate discussions among employers, educators and district authorities.

This will serve to complement new centres such as Knua Juventude Fila-Liman in Dili, which provides wide-ranging services to encourage social entrepreneurship among youth as well as increased employability and youth engagement in decision-making.

The report’s focus on education and training, embracing technology, public investment and the economic inclusion of youth in new work prospects addresses the need to transform this emerging nation’s youth from being job seekers to job creators.

Key areas of improving the wellbeing of Timor-Leste youth have been identified as increasing school completion rates up to Year 12, and reducing a student gender gap, both of which will ease unemployment numbers; boosting the prevalence of contraception; and improved labour market flexibility and financial market efficiency.

The Timor-Leste Government says it is highly committed to implement the recommendations laid out in the 160-page report.

The authors say this is a positive sign, as the report finds that while three-quarters of youth across Timor-Leste perceive themselves as leading healthy and satisfactory lives overall, more than 80 per cent also say they experience deprivations in education and community vitality.

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