What turns rural young people into migrant workers?

Is poverty the main driver for youth to decide to migrate? In general, lack of investments, to improve decent work prospects for young people in rural areas, often results in lower living standards and the consequent de-population of rural areas. The scarce availability of decent work and decent living opportunities, and the little hope of a better future, are the main factors pushing youth to migrate from rural to urban areas or abroad. The influence of peers and the aspirations associated with successful migrants also play an important part.

Youth migration undoubtedly has a wide impact. It increases the strain on jobs without necessarily improving the job conditions of those who are left in rural areas; impacts the provision of public goods, education, utilities, housing, and infrastructure; and affects demographic and skills composition in both urban and rural areas. Given that the majority of the African youth population is still living in rural areas, and that urban areas have been very slow in generating job opportunities for most new job seekers, there is a need to join up youth policy in urban areas with youth policy in rural areas.

The debate on whether migration should be prevented altogether, or simply better managed, remains open. Migration per se is not always negative: it can generate revenue back in the rural villages. But most rural youth appear to leave their villages, not because they wish to do so, but more likely because there are no opportunities if they stay put. Fostering adequate means and opportunities for youth to be able to remain in rural areas is therefore becoming an urgent issue for governments and policy makers alike.