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BRAZIL: Youth Still in Trouble, Despite Plethora of Social Programmes

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 30 2007 (IPS) - The Brazilian government has a total of 45 different programmes targeting young people, according to the National Secretariat of Youth. Nevertheless, young people face high unemployment and are sucked into a spiral of violence in which they are both victims and actors.

The murder rate among young people between the ages of 18 and 24 soared from 30 per 100,000 in 1980 to nearly 52 per 100,000 in 2004, according to a recently published study by the Organisation of Ibero-American States.

Brazilians in that age category formed the single largest group of victims of the nearly 800,000 murders committed in Brazil between 1980 and 2004.

Young people have also been the most heavily affected by the increase in the unemployment rate since the 1990s. They account for 45 percent of the unemployed, although they represent just one quarter of the economically active population.

Unemployment among 15 to 24-year-olds stood at 19.4 percent in 2005, more than three times the rate for the rest of the labour force, which was 6.2 percent, and more than twice the overall rate of 9.3 percent, according to a study by Professor Marcio Pochmann at the University of Campinas.

The urgent need to open up horizons for a portion of the population that has grown enormously in the last few decades, while the economy has stagnated and generated insufficient new jobs, has given rise to a multiplicity of social and educational programmes targeting young people.

And the leftist government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is now preparing to launch another programme: a stipend for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 who stay in school.

Under the new initiative, 15 reals (7.15 dollars) a month will be deposited in a savings account, which the adolescents will only be able to access once they have completed their studies, whether the eight years of primary school or high school.

The programme is basically an extension of the globally-acclaimed “bolsa scuola” programme which keeps children up to the age of 14 in school by linking their attendance to welfare payments to their parents. But in this case, it will be the youngsters themselves who will receive the money.

The Labour Ministry, meanwhile, plans to start winding up the “first job” programme, which involved a bi-monthly payment of 250 reals (120 dollars) aimed at encouraging companies to hire young people.

Created in 2003, the programme did not achieve the hoped-for success: in four years, 350,454 young people were hired as a result – less than the goal that had been set for a single year.

Programmes aimed at helping young people enter the labour market tend to fail because there is already an excess of 15 to 24-year-olds in the market for jobs, Pochmann told IPS.

In industrialised countries, only three out of 10 young people are employed or seeking work, compared to seven out of 10 in Brazil, he noted.

This kind of pressure in a country with low economic growth and a huge pool of unskilled labour can only result in “increasing the precariousness of work and driving up unemployment,” he said.

It would be better for young people to enter the labour market later, and for social programmes to offer community activities and job training, said Pochmann.

In Italy, cooperatives of young people have organised municipal libraries – a good example for Brazil, where 60 percent of cities lack these facilities, he said. Young people could also help look after the elderly, he suggested, an area in which demand is growing.

With respect to the numerous programmes dedicated to young people in Brazil without solving their most pressing problems, which end up affecting society as a whole, Pochmann said more integral or comprehensive solutions are still being sought, rather than the current “piecemeal” approach.

Job training, initiatives to get dropouts back in school, sports activities, military service and community work are some of the activities offered by the numerous government programmes aimed at steering young people away from crime and preparing them to enter the job market.

On Friday, President Lula attended a graduation ceremony for 4,200 young people in Recife, the capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, who were finishing the eight years of primary school or vocational courses.

The students took part in the National Programme for Inclusion of Young People (Projovem), which has already provided assistance to 164,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who had dropped out of school.

The demand for such programmes is growing. Some 3,000 youngsters from around the country ended the first National Festival of Rural Youth Thursday in Brasilia, the capital, calling for more and better schools in the countryside and access to cultural and sports activities.

The large number of initiatives is positive, but the problem is integrating and coordinating them, Regina Novaes, assistant secretary of the National Secretariat on Youth until this week, told IPS.

The government is dedicated to that task, attempting to coordinate the action of the ministries of social development, education, justice, labour and culture, in order to carry out a joint review of all of the programmes, she explained.

Extending the “bolsa scuola” effort to older adolescents is important, but it must not be done by sacrificing other programmes, Novaes argued.

She said the “first job” programme should be “reformulated” in order to correct its focus and bring it more into line with what could interest businesses, which “do not generally have a tradition of supporting social policies.”

For his part, Pochmann said the government “has to understand that the problems facing young people require a global approach, that would comprise education, recreation, work” and other dimensions of life.

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