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Re: Youth – feeding the future. Addressing the challenges faced by rural youth aged 15 to 17 in preparing for and accessing decent work

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Economic Commission for Latin America and the CaribbeanChile

Latin America and the Caribbean is home to approximately 160 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29.  Although this region is characterized by being the most urbanized region on earth, with over 75 percent of the population living in cities (World Bank 2014), rural youth face a specific set of challenges to achieve inclusion in the economic, social, and political processes that are taking place. A notable feature of the rural youth population in some countries of the region is that rural youth are mainly indigenous youth, which adds an additional dimension of discrimination and exclusion.  Despite their key role as drivers in agricultural development and rural poverty alleviation they often lack the necessary skills, support, and opportunities to contribute fully to their communities.

Some of the specific challenges facing rural adolescents in the region (< age 18):

1. Limited access to education and appropriate training;

2. Early entry into the labour market (due not only to the limited access to education opportunities in their communities, but also the high poverty levels of their families), frequently into the informal labour market and family work in agriculture, which is common at an early age in the rural areas throughout the region;

3. Low levels of access to social protection mechanisms (including health coverage); this is due to the fact that they are unable to access these mechanisms either through their parents or their own work situation;

4. Limited access to knowledge and to resources that will enable them to initiate entrepreneurial activities;  the issue of access to financial resources for youth is particularly a challenge as most mechanisms aimed at improving access to such resources among rural residents are not destined specifically to this population;

5. Few channels for participation in community decision-making;

6. Early motherhood.

This last point is especially pernicious in perpetuating the intergenerational transmission of poverty in rural areas. Data from the most recent census rounds in 7 countries of the region indicate clearly that independent of wealth, adolescents in rural areas have significantly higher chances of being mothers than their counterparts in urban areas (graph 1). Being a mother at an early age can truncate educational trajectories for young women, can limit their opportunities for entering the labour market, all of which has negative impacts on household poverty levels.  

Graph 1
Latin America (7 countries): Women aged 15 to 19 who are mothers, according to wealth quintile and area of residence


Source: Jorge Rodríguez, “La reproducción en la adolescencia y sus desigualdades en América Latina. Introducción al análisis demográfico, con énfasis en el uso de microdatos censales de la ronda de 2010”, Santiago, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Trucco and Ullmann (2015).

With regard to points 2 and 3, rural areas combine both a high degree of informality and youth labour market insertion. According to ILO figures, in Honduras and Guatemala, for example, more than half of youth who work do so in rural areas (59.2 and 51.5% respectively). The incidence of informality among rural youth varies between 80% in Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala and exceeds 90% in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia (ILO, 2015).

Initiatives that hold most promise are those that employ a multi-pronged approach that target several of these challenge areas (such as increasing investments, incentives; strengthening infrastructure, labor market institutions; enhancing skills in entrepreneurship; improving working conditions, social protection, labor rights and representation of young workers).

Actions that can effectively target rural youth fall under a wide range of concurrent special programs for sustainable rural development, including agricultural education; flexible capacity building programs (this point is important – that the programs be flexible); scholarships for indigenous youth to pursue education; support for business incubators for young people; programs for young rural entrepreneurs; funds to support micro, small and medium enterprises; policies that promote and ensure compliance with labor rights of young workers in rural areas.

In this vein, the region is also witnessing initiatives aimed at formalizing rural workers and family farming, where young people are identified as a potentially receptor general formalization policies for rural workers group (ILO, 2015).

Some specific examples of programmes include:

Hospedaje estudiantil en familia, Bolivia

Addresses the lack of and distance from schools in rural indigenous communities and aims at preventing school desertion by matching students with families willing to host them in proximity to the school. 

Prevención del fenómeno de droga y mara en áreas urbano marginales y rurales, Guatemala

Seeks to facilitate and strengthen training, capacity building and organization of children in youth in rural areas in order to prevent them from participating in gangs and drug related activities.

Acre Social and Economic Inclusion and Sustainable Development Project (PROACRE), Ecuador

Seeks to improve the quality of education and health services in 100 rural communities. I don’t have more information; I know it’s a WB project.

Young rural entrepreneurs program (SENA), Colombia

This programme was created in 2004 and is aimed at socially vulnerable young people aged 16 to 35 years in rural areas.  In order to assist them in the realization of projects, the programme provides technical training and practice to develop skills in strategic sectors for six months. The contents of the training are defined according to business projects that are selected. Participants receive support and guidance on how to develop their business plan and access to financing. Moreover, by integrating participants of the programme in the development of the programme itself, it fosters a sense of belonging among participants. From its inception until 2012, more than 1.5 million young people have benefited from it. The program has a quasi-experimental impact evaluation. The estimated effects on employment and income for young people who participated in this programme are positive.

Nossa Primeira Terra Programme (under the National Land Loan Programme), Brazil

Implemented since 2003, this programme aims to promote the development of youth 18-29 years in rural areas. The programme provides low interest loans to landless rural youth and access to additional financial resources for infrastructure development projects. The support extends to the preparation of property, purchasing equipment and technical advice.

Pronaf Jovem, Brazil

Aims to finance agricultural, tourism, and handicraft initiatives by youth 16-29 in rural areas.

Local youth councils

Local youth councils or committees have been established in many countries in the region (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina) in order to increase youth participation in general. This strategy has expanded the opportunities for rural youth to be involved in local and national decision-making, which is usually highly centralized.


-ILO (2015). Formalizing youth informality: innovative experiences from Latin America and the Caribbean. Available [online]:

-Trucco, Daniela and Heidi Ullmann (2016). Youth: realities and challenges for development with equality. Available [online]:

-World Bank (2014). Latin America and Caribbean Data. Available [online]: