Positive Youth Development - Opportunities and Challenges for Youth Involvement

Over the years Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights – SRHR have become a catch-phrase in many spaces (social or otherwise) for many young people. At one platform or another we have all heard and even relayed it; but as is the tragedy of slogans, SRHR faces the risk of being thrown around without any real understanding of what they are or what they mean to us as young people. This is because SRHR are an integral component of human rights. As young people we must consistently confront ourselves with these questions: What is Sexual Reproductive Health and how does it relate to human rights? Why is youth involvement in the realisation of human rights so important and how best can this involvement be secured? What are the challenges hindering effective youth involvement and how can they be addressed?

Positive Youth Development – Opportunities and Challenges for Youth Involvement

Picture courtesy of www.safaids.net

Picture courtesy of www.safaids.net

by Kuda Mhlanga

Human rights are entitlements due to every human being by virtue of being human and thus defining and understanding sexual and reproductive rights becomes less cumbersome. In other words, because we are human, each and every one of us is entitled to enjoy these rights. Human rights vary and come in different forms namely civil & political rights, economic rights, cultural rights amongst others. Sexual and reproductive rights therefore loosely defined can be said to refer to those entitlements due to every human being by virtue of being human which relate to the sexuality and reproduction of the person. Just like all other human rights sexual and reproductive rightshould be universal, inalienable and indivisible. Take for example the most fundamental rights to life, right to human dignity, right to privacy, right to self-determination, right to personal security, right to non-discrimination, access to information and right to education and freedom of expression – all these also constitute the bulk of sexual and reproductive rights.

Statics are always glaring on the vulnerabilities of youth particularly those related to health and diseases such as HIV. This gives rise to the need for their involvement in the promotion of their sexual and reproductive rights which are overall an undeniable aspect of their human rights. Youth participation and involvement in this endeavour can best be safeguarded via a new found appreciation of the youth development concept which basically requires an understanding of two very important concepts, that is, “youth development” and “positive youth development”. The African Union (that is, within the African Youth Decade 2009-2018 Plan of Action) (2011) defines youth development as, “the ongoing growth processes in which youth are engaged in attempting to: (i) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded, and (ii) build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.”

Young people engaging other young people. Picture courtesy of  www.safaids.net

Young people engaging other young people. Picture courtesy of www.safaids.net

Positive Youth Development (PYD) has been described by one of its proponents Lerner (2010) as a philosophy or approach promoting a set of guidelines on how a community can support its young people so that they can grow up competent and healthy and develop to their full potential. It is a framework that views young people as resources to be developed rather than as problems to be managed (Damon, 2004; Larson, 2000; Lerner, 2005) (Lerner.2010). The PYD framework also places an emphasis on positive outcomes amongst youth (competence, confidence, character, connection, caring & compassion & contribution); increased youth voice in any youth development initiative (youth seen as active rather than passive participants); strategies that aim to involve all youth; long-term involvement; with community involvement (family, faith and civic groups amongst others); and emphasis on collaboration (towards sharing of expertise & resources).

One of the greatest challenges facing youth in relation to their SRHR is little to no active involvement in planning and designing as well as well SRHR related programs and platforms. Indeed there has been talk of mainstreaming the youth is such and this has been done; for example youth becoming a key stakeholder in such platforms as ICASA as well as in some civil society work with them but however gaps remain. On the ground there appears to be very little involvement of youth at the grassroots with access and opportunities to participate being privy to those fortunate enough to having done so. There is need to nurture a sense of ownership in youth involvement; one that promotes sustainability rather than snapshot approaches where youth are essential seen as beneficiaries-whereas more often than not these benefits are restricted and confined to a few awareness campaigns and workshops.

An enabling environment poses yet another opportunity.  Ask a room full of young people what human rights are and it is not at all surprising that perhaps only a few know what human rights are, but we all talk about rights and spell them out. As mentioned earlier, phrases and words are often turned into slogans whose meanings tend to fade with time and use. There is a need to have an environment where young people can learn and have an understanding of what SRHR and human rights really are. Perhaps most ideally starting at the family as one of the primary agent of socialisation and transcending to the community levels. Ideally, this can be done by borrowing from the PYD framework mentioned above.

Positive youth development catching them while they are young. courtesy of www.safaids.net

Positive youth development catching them while they are young – teaching them about SRHR. courtesy of www.safaids.net

There is also the need to desist from flaunting youth everywhere using statistics to dazzle and shock donors. It is very important to remember that behind these figures and statistics young people are people with real problems and real issues but at the same time with this massive potential to make meaningful contributions towards their well-being.



The African Youth Decade 2009-2018 Plan of Action. (2011).

Lerner, R.M.; Lerner, J.V and Colleagues. (2010). The Positive Development of Youth; Report Of The Findings from the First Seven Years of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development Tufts University. 4-h.org/about/youth-development-research