What is a youth? The UN, the Commonwealth, The AU and Nigeria’s National Youth Policy give different definitions of what is a youth.
“Youth” is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community. Youth is a more fluid category than a fixed age-group.”
The Commonwealth defines youth as 15-29 years of age.
The African Youth Charter defines youth as “any individual between 15-35 years of age and seeks to resolve longstanding debates about defining youth within the African context and based on Africa’s development realities.”
The Nigerian National Youth Policy defines youth as anyone between the age of 18 and 35.
The various definitions of youth can be problematic when designing youth programs. There is no standard global definition. Africa and the global south have long insisted that youth is not a range of ages but defined by a diversity of culturally defined social processes that mark the transition from child to adult.
However psychologists propose that there are distinct stages in human psycho-social development that can be used to guide the design of necessary age specific interventions providing support at each stage in life. While they recognise that there is no specific and set age when each stage occurs it offers a coherent guide for programming.
Including a 30 year old in programming for a 20 year old is unlikely to produce equal results for a number of reasons not least of which is the fact that the wide age disparity is likely to distort power relations within the group.
I also think Nigeria’s very broad definition of youth infantilises our young adults and how we treat them. I cannot and should not expect the same behaviour, ability, emotional intelligence or cognitive capacity from a 24 year old and a 30 year old.
It is common to meet western trained youth of 18 or 23 who have a very clear sense of purpose and direction whereas this is a lot less common in Nigeria. Our young are encouraged to be dependent much longer with excuses like the country is ‘hard’ or otherwise ‘not what it used to be’.
A program manager with the British Council told me that many young people are choosing to remain students dependent on parents longer because there were no jobs for them even though it does not improve their chances of a job.
This trend seems strange among people who culturally and historically had elaborate ceremonies to transit teenagers into immediate adulthood with the associated rights and responsibilities.
A downward review of the age range of youth in Nigeria will not only improve program design it will also encourage youth to take on adult responsibility sooner as well as acknowledge them as contributors and a resource for national and global development.