Livelihood Concerns of Marginalized Youths in Sungai Padi

Key points recently compiled during a June rural-based focus group discussion in Sungai Padi, Narathiwat province, with twelve marginalized young women and men. The diversity of age range from 15 to 25, with many failing to complete secondary-level schools and are all from lower-income families.

1. A shrinking economy, and a growing public disillusionment with the present state of microeconomics.

2. Even with the weekly assurances by the junta that the national economy is blooming, this doesn't reflect an accurate picture on the ground, especially in the villages and plantations. Nor do young people believe in the regime's sentiments, and they are more inclined to think that the Bangkok-based leadership is boastfully overconfident.

3. Some youths have shrugged off "good news" as propaganda, as what they have been seening for the past decade.

4. One sarcastically remarked, and that was agreed by the focus group, that at least during the days of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the southern population was able to demand for greater priority in the economical timetable. Although another pointed out that during her days, young people were absent from such an agenda.

5. The present national economy is uncertain, rural people are conscious and hesitant of the spending culture as more families are saving money for a rainy day.

6. However young people have expressed concerns of growing exploitative interest-rates from accumulated personal debts with moneylenders. Repayment, before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is a subjective matter, as some of the youths feel a need to specifically save for the upcoming Aidilfitri celebration.

7. Junta's pet economic projects in the south appear to be ineffective and vague to the population.

8. These 'projects' are mentioned in the local news, supported by showcase banners in public places; nevertheless such projects are inaccessible to youths, either because of lacking in meeting the educational requirement, or, allegedly the corruption that thrives in the local southern bureaucracy. Whatever that's available in the towns is simply beyond their reach. Instead, many are considering to migrate to nearby provinces, such as in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi, Trang and Songkhla.

9. Young people feel they are often “forced” into entrepreneurship initiated by the provincial government. The budget for seminars are used, and such events are seen as photo-shoot/public-relations exercise of poor young people receiving "worthless" certificates from officials. Youths feel that these government-driven, self-employment projects in the informal sector do not bring any benefits.

10. Some concerns; of questions asked by me during the focus discussion:

  • What types of grant schemes are available in Narathiwat for youths? Are these NGOs or government managed? What have been the accomplishments and limitations?
  • In what ways does the provincial government and the military regime promote youth employment? What about NGO programs and have they been publicized? How is the business sector involved in such schemes? Are these services accessible to rural young people?
  • Are young women, youths blacklisted by the authorities, young people with disabilities, homeless/displaced youths part of the junta's "road-map" for economical reforms in the south
  • How are marginalized young people and youth-based NGOs involved in the conceptualizing, planning and implementation of youth employment programs or in the framework of the provincial-level administration?

11. Youth unemployment has a lifelong impact, and they feel that they are the first to lose jobs during challenging economic times, and in the case of the present, where the uncertainty has generated anxiety among young people.

12. There is a troubling atmosphere of mistrust. This influenced the type of responses that youths received from local authorities and the larger rural community. Conflict areas prevent youths from effectively engaging with their peers, and often due to the highly-charged situation they found it difficult to organise independently. Their loosely-based peer groups are usually viewed with suspicion by the authorities, NGOs and some parents.

13. What's obvious, from a quick assessment of their issues, needs and concerns, there is an urgent need to incorporate a democratic decision-making process in the system of community development. Firstly, a revamp of the educational system in the south, to accurately reflect the Patani cultural identity and making it relevant to their future, followed by addressing core issues of poverty reduction and employment generation. Without their active participation in a democratic action, young people are trapped in a destructive cycle of social isolation and suffer from serious deprivation.

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