Research Nugget

Youth Participation in the Adolescent and Youth Health Policy in South Africa

Involving young people in all that is relevant to them is part of the global commitment to eradicate poverty in all its forms; end discrimination and exclusion; and reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities. However, there is a substantial gap between rhetoric and reality in terms of youth participation and there is scant research about this gap, both globally and in South Africa. Research partly funded by the NRF examined youth participation in South Africa’s Adolescent and Youth Health Policy (AYHP) formulation process to further understand how youth can be included in health policy-making and to draw out lessons to bridge the gap.

The study found that:

  • Youth participation was enabled by leadership from certain government actors and involvement of key academics with a foundation in long standing youth research participatory programmes. However, challenges related to when, how and which youth were involved remained.
  • Youth participation was not consistent throughout the health policy formulation process. This is related to broader contextual challenges including the lack of a representative and active youth citizenry; siloed health programmes and policy processes; segmented donor priorities; and the lack of institutional capability for multi-sectoral engagement required for youth health.
  • There is a need to move beyond individual notions of youth participation and ‘celebrity’ status, to more systematic processes of routinely including the voices and agency of young people in their full diversity in all policies and programmes.

Although youth participation in the AYHP was a step toward including youth in the development of health policy, more needs to be done to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality in South Africa. The study put forward a list of prospective questions to guide youth participation in policy processes that can be used by a range of actors, including policy makers and researchers.

Access the full paper published in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management here.