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Sierra Leone Publishes First-Ever Status of Youth Report

A boy stands on a road at dawn in Freetown, Sierra Leone, November 2012.

A boy stands on a road at dawn in Freetown, Sierra Leone, November 2012.

Imagine living on less than two dollars a day. That is what 70 percent of young people in Sierra Leone do, according to the United Nations. A new study is the first to focus on the status of the nation's youth.

Ibrahim Bangura wades through the water with a fishing net, hoping for a good catch. This is how he makes his living, though not by choice. Bangura, who is 20 years old, said he had to drop out of school because he could not afford the fees of approximately $125 a year. He said selling the fish he catches helps him just make ends meet. Normally he makes about $2 to $3 a day.

That is the sad reality for the majority of Sierra Leone's young people. The country's unemployment rate stands at 60 percent, one of the highest in West Africa, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The U.N. organization helped finance and write a report on the state of Sierra Leone's youth.

UNDP analyst Marbey Sartie said the report not only points up the problems, but it also looks for solutions. He said the report recommends the government look at industries, such as tourism, to help alleviate youth unemployment.

"It has about 360 kilometers of very clean beach, which can attract tourist investment. It is the hope of the development plan of this country, and the report brought it out clearly, that that is one area, if explored properly, it can create a lot of jobs for youth," said Sartie.

Anthony Koroma is the commissioner for the National Youth Commission, an organization that also was involved in writing the report. He said agriculture is another area where young people can be employed. "We are also targeting rural youth, to be able to process cassava, oil palm and rice and also to provide post training and employment support."

The report also noted that young women find it even more difficult when it comes to education and job opportunities, with their wages often one-third of their male co-workers.

Fatmata Mansaray works as a waitress in the downtown area of Freetown. She said her salary sometimes is under $100 a month and is not enough when she is only breadwinner of a small family. "We are really straining in Sierra Leone. Things are not going good for us," she said.

Mansaray wants to expand her horizons to one day having her own catering company, but said she has not had the proper guidance to pursue her dream.

Sierra Leone Ministry of Youth Affairs Information Officer Musa Conteh said the ministry is looking at new ways to encourage and empower the nation's youth. Conteh said providing role models may be one way to encourage women and show them they can be as successful as men.

"We are trying to put in place where we can see role models, visit certain youth groups all over the country, talk to them, tell them about their success story so that they can share the same experience and copy the same positive things,” said Conteh.

The Status of Youth report is expected to now be issued annually, and it can be used to map progress toward giving Sierra Leone's young people more employment and opportunity.