Two 18-year-olds meet one day. They don’t know each other. One is comfortable in the backseat of a car. The driver drums his fingers on the steering wheel, while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. There is a knock on the window and the passenger, Vinod, looks up from a book to see Prasad. Right behind Prasad is his sister, Anoma. In Prasad’s hand is a bag full of camphor and joss sticks. He looks at Vinod pleadingly. Vinod wants to help Prasad, but when he checks his pockets, he can’t find any money. He looks away, embarrassed, as the light turns green and the vehicle speeds away.
At that moment, Vinod had no money, whereas Prasad had money with him. However, it was Prasad who suffered from poverty, and it was Prasad who walked around in the hot sun, selling camphor and joss sticks just so he can feed his family.
Vinod will be facing his university entrance exam in a few weeks’ time. He didn’t receive a good A/L results and his chances of being accepted by university are quite slim. However, he can always work for his father, and is not too worried about his future. Prasad, however, can’t live a worry-free life. His father is an alcoholic, and spends day and night at the local liquor store.
His mother is ill and goes looking for work whenever she can. His sister is 11 and when she’s not in school, accompanies her brother and helps him sell joss sticks and camphor. Prasad hates using her, but knows sales are higher when Anoma is by his side.
Vinod and Prasad are the same age and yet, their lives are completely different. Poverty is something that can greatly affect an individual’s life and development of a country. There are many people like Prasad. There are people who are young and smart, people with many dreams, but people who are tied down by poverty. Poverty can cripple an individual and society. Poverty has been tackled by governments and organizations for decades and continues to be focused on.
The first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was ‘eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.’ The first of the Sustainable Development Goals also focuses poverty and is to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere.’ Thus there is no doubt that governments and organizations do see how poverty stands in the ways of development and quality of life.
There are various definitions of poverty, and according to the United Nations (UN), poverty can be income poverty, extreme poverty or absolute poverty. Regardless of how poverty is defined, it is something that can cripple individuals and society in general.
How does poverty affect us, the youth? Our options in life are severely limited if we suffer from poverty. Many people can’t continue their education because of poverty. Parents can’t afford to send their children to school, let alone university, and once they have reached a certain age, children will be expected to earn money. However, without sufficient qualifications, they will be forced to accept menial jobs and usually those that don’t pay well.
When problems and frustrations increase, people will turn to substance abuse and this will only worsen their financial situation.
When legal methods of earning money are useless, people will turn to illegal methods like theft, drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes. This leads to a youth that not only has no proper education or employment, but also one that has a criminal record.
What causes poverty? “At the individual level, if someone does not have the skills or health or the opportunity to secure a decent paying job that can guarantee their basic needs, he/she will likely fall into poverty—or never get out of it to begin with. A sad reality of poverty is that it can easily be transmitted from one generation to the next. Poverty in childhood is a root cause of poverty in adulthood: Impoverished children often grow up to be impoverished parents who in turn bring up their own children in poverty. Thus, poverty can breed poverty, forming a vicious cycle,” mentions an article on the dimensions of poverty published in Voices of Youth (www.voicesofyouth.org).
Thus what causes poverty varies and depends on the individual. As difficult as it may be, it is important to address these causes. We need to examine what causes poverty and these factors will be useful when eradication poverty.
Many charity events are held by many organizations in Sri Lanka. However, these organizations mostly offer short-term solutions. By distributing free lunch packets to poverty-stricken schools, we will be feeding those children for a day, at most, but our efforts end there. Instead, it is important to educate people and pave way for a better future. Through vocational training and career guidance, youth affected by poverty will be able to escape from poverty.
Poverty is also a reason for discrimination. People who come from poverty-stricken background have a fewer opportunities in life and are discriminated against. Thus poverty isn’t only about rupees and cents and affects people lives and leads to several other issues like drug use, illness and unemployment.
Thus, in order to grow as a country, we must first address poverty and what causes poverty. As the youth hold the future of the nation, it is important to focus extra attention on poverty among youth and address issues faced by youth without delay.
The theme for this year is, ‘building a sustainable future: coming together to end poverty and discrimination’
Average household income per month: Rs 45,878
Average household expenditure per month: Rs 41,444
Overall female participation in the labor market is low compared to male participation
“In 2012/13, the poverty head-count index was 6.7%, a decline from 8.9% in 2009/10”
Department of Census and Statistics
Unemployment rates in the age group 15-19 years were 20% in 2010 and 19% in the 20-24 age group
Female unemployment is higher than male unemployment among youth
Youth is defined as the age between 15-29 years
“One of the greatest grievances for youth with regard to the employment issue is that political and social influence is the biggest leverage for obtaining employment”
National Youth Policy