Editorial | Hoping for YUTE, but wanting more
Last week, in Washington, DC, Joseph M. Matalon, the chairman of the ICD Group, was busy promoting one of his pet projects, YUTE, or Youth Upliftment Through Employment.
At a dinner hosted by Audrey Marks, Jamaica's ambassador to the United States, Mr Matalon told Jamaican business people that since its launch in 2010, when he was president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), YUTE has trained more than 2,000 young people between the ages of 17 and 29. Its plan is to train more than 10,000. This year, the project, initially an initiative of the PSOJ, will merge with the MultiCare Foundation, an ICD-supported charity that works with young people in the arts, sport and culture in inner-city communities.
Hopefully, Mr Matalon was persuasive and members of the diaspora who heard his message will support YUTE. The existence and success of projects such as these are in all our interests, especially when there is a seeming lack of a structured programme to confront the crisis facing Jamaica's youth.
It is estimated, for instance, that up to 140,000, or over a quarter of Jamaica's young people between the ages of 14 and 24 are 'unattached'. They are neither in school nor have jobs. A hefty number of them are deemed to be at risk of being lured into gangs, getting into trouble with the law, or being ensnared into other forms of social dysfunction.
The number grows worse when the cohort is expanded to all under-30s. While the national unemployment rate is in low single digits, for people up to 29, it is over 30 per cent. And even when there are jobs, a large proportion of this group is unsuitable for work. Many lack the discipline and training for the workplace.
BOYS ARE THE BIGGEST PROBLEM
Yet, even as the problem of unemployment is worse among young women than men, it is boys, according to University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, who face a greater immediate crisis, and ultimately burden the society with the crime that gives Jamaica one of the world's worst homicide rates - 50 per 100,000 of the population. That, according to Dr Gayle, is well past the rate of 30 per 100,000 at which countries are deemed to be at civil war.
Dr Gayle, in recent articles in this newspaper, reported that up to a quarter of boys in inner-city communities or from working-class homes hustle on the street. Boys in these situations are expected to drop out of schools when the family falls into financial trouble. They are three times more likely than girls to be brutally beaten at home, account for 95 per cent of murdered children, and are killed more often than women and girls combined. Boys are also three times more likely than girls to go hungry or be neglected by their fathers.
The upshot: this social environment provides a conveyor belt of recruits to the gangs that produce a bulk of the country's criminal violence.
While there has been much talk over many years about such issues, we are yet to develop a sustained, ongoing national strategy to reverse this crisis. YUTE is a small but important window of hope.