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When asked how the COVID-19 has aggravated the challenges young people in Eswatini face, Senzo Mdluli, a 30 year old self-taught visual artist, had this to say,

“After completing High School, I could not afford tertiary tuition, so I stayed home. I had to earn a living but, jobs were not much. My only option was to God-given talent of painting to earn a living. So far, I’ve produced to comic books on SRH and GBV for adolescents. But then COVID disrupted everything, I can no longer freely move to get clients for my art. That means its back to no income for me.”

Senzo and nearly 700 000 other young people aged between 10 and 35 years make up about 70% of Eswatini’ s population. After completing high school, most of these young people lack financial support for tertiary hence the high rate of unemployment, currently at 22.85 per cent in Eswatini.

Subsequently, the Youth Affairs department, under the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs, revised the National Youth Policy in order to address the needs of young people. Amongst these is the aforementioned youth unemployment, teenage pregnancy currently at 87 / 10000 adolescents as well as high HIV prevalence. Also, in search of a buy in from legislators, the Ministry hosted a two-day orientation workshop for Parliamentarians in the Youth Portfolio Committee on 1st – 2nd of July 2020.

Head of Office Margaret Thwala-Tembe extended UNFPA’s appreciation of the Youth Policy and further described it as a guiding document for any implementation of youth related programs. She further assured the agency’s commitment to supporting Eswatini in ensuring that young people reach their fullest potential.

“It is our wish that young people and those working with young people, be afforded an opportunity to share their thoughts on some of the key interventions that the UN could contribute to over the coming years. We also wish that such a process would be inclusive to ensure that we leave no one behind especially vulnerable and youth with disabilities.”

Thwala-Tembe also noted that the education system required revamping in order to prepare the young people for life after school.

“There is a need to regulate and provide scholarship for vocational training to ensure that youth receive skills with the adequate needs and expectations of the employer.”

Her words were echoed by the Minister of Sports Culture and Youth Affairs, Honorable Haries Bulunga, who emphasised on the need for developing the youth.

“What is important is realizing development for the youth of Eswatini. As a Ministry, we really appreciate the commitment and passion shown by both our partner UNFPA and the committee members as their passion in working for the youth is visible in the efforts put in all the Ministry’s works like the Strategic plan and the Youth Policy.”

Youth Affairs Director Bheki Thwala elaborated on 5 pillars of focus in the strategic plan within the youth policy. “The strategic plan will guide the Ministry towards supporting the youth of Eswatini. Some of the key areas of focus in the coming years include: innovation, entrepreneurship & employment, health & well-being, food & nutrition as well as social capital.”

Through this youth Policy, the Kindgom of Eswatini seeks to address the tons of problems the youth is faced with. In his presentation, Thwala elaborated that there were plans to introduce entrepreneurship education innovation programmes which would directly tackle the challenge of high youth unemployment in the country.

The Youth Portfolio Committee Chairperson and Siphofaneni Member of Parliament Honorable Mduduzi Simelane, called for improved investments on youth as it would fast track the country’s development.

“To change Eswatini to a land of milk and honey, we must ensure that the 70% of the population, which is the youth, is supported to provide for the 30% of the population, which comprise children, adults and elderly.”

This policy review came at a time where Eswatini is having a window of opportunity known as the demographic dividend. This refers to an economic growth potential which can result from shifts in population age structure particularly when the working age group (15 - 64s) is larger than the non-working age population; younger than (14s and older than 65s). The Youth Policy therefore, is one tool to held Eswatini be able to harness this demographic dividend as it outlines practical actions for supporting the country’s youth.