Investing in the Youth of Malawi

Investing in the Youth of Malawi Building Sustainable Populations

The youth of Malawi represent a significant and growing human resource, with the potential to contribute to sustainable economic development. Historically marginalised from active participation, their force for change has now been recognised. Forty percent of Malawi’s population is aged 10 to 35 years but lacks basic opportunities to develop their potential.

Recognising the importance of youth to the country’s development, Malawi has created a National Youth Policy, designed to empower and develop the youth of Malawi to reach their potential. Grounded in valuing the rights and responsibilities of their younger citizens, the policy defines youth as aged between 10 to 35 years old.

Implementation mechanisms have been developed accordingly, and the work has fostered the political will and enabling environment necessary to create sustainable change in the country.

At a Glance

  • Malawi’s National Youth Policy aims to empower its youth and encourage their participation in development processes, as well as to reach their potential.
  • Sets out specific policies targets, timeframes and responsibilities to develop opportunities for the youth of Malawi.
  • Concentrates on six priority areas of Youth Participation and Leadership; Economic Empowerment; National Youth Service; Education; Science, Technology and Environment; Health and Nutrition; and Social Services, Sports, Recreation and Culture.
  • The policy is coordinated, implemented and monitored by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Policy Reference

National Youth Policy. [In English]

Connected Laws and Policies

Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II 2011-2016. [In English]

Previous National Youth Policy. [In English]

Selection as Future-Just Policy

As a country, Malawi’s youth represent a particularly high percentage of the population. Creating sustainable populations, and ensuring future socio-economic development, means taking youth into account. Malawi’s National Youth Policy represents years of consultation and deliberation at national, regional and local levels to create a policy that addresses the challenges facing Malawi’s youth. As an approach, it is progressive in aiming to work with youth, as well as in its understanding of the importance of empowering youth for development.

Future-Just Policy Scorecard

Our “Best Policies” are those which meet the Future-Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise that interrelated challenges require interconnected solutions. The World Future Council’s unique research and analysis ensures that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are coherently considered by policy-makers.

   Sustainable use of resources

  • The National Youth Policy aims to build a sustainable population contributing to socio-economic change and poverty reduction which takes environmental problems into account and aligns with sustainability guidelines.

   Equity and poverty eradication

  • The National Youth Policy recognises the rights of youth and is founded on a commitment to freedom of expression, respect, representation and protection from exploitation, discrimination and abuse.
  • Equal access of young men and women to participate in decision-making processes is mandated.
  • The intent to reduce poverty and uphold equality standards is explicit.
  • Principles of non-discrimination are upheld.

   Precautionary approach 

  • Youth were meaningfully and actively involved in the decision-making process, with provisions made for their inclusion and leadership roles, to ensure that the policy adequately addresses their current and potential needs and challenges.

   Public participation, access to information and justice

  • The responsibility of youth to participate in environmental conservation activities is stated.
  • Opportunities are provided for public consultation with awareness-raising activities of the development programmes available taking place through youth networks.
  • The National Youth Council is identified as one of the key stakeholders.

    Good governance and human security

  • The policy identifies the responsibility of the youth of Malawi to defend its peace and security under section Economic, Social and Cultural responsibilities: ‘e) Promote and defend democracy, peace and security.’
  • Also, the policy explicitly states, ‘although there are no precise unemployment figures on the youth currently, there can be no denying that the ever-growing number of jobless youth and the accompanying desperation makes youth unemployment to be both a political, security and socio-economic issue. Untrained and jobless youth can be easily recruited as political thugs ready to eliminate their sponsor’s opponents at the flimsiest excuse.’
  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports is mandated to implement the policy.

  Integration and interrelationship

icon-partly-yellow   Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • Sectors of marginalised youth are identified as requiring specific access and help initiatives under priority target groups. These are: orphans, youth with disabilities, youth living with HIV, young people on the street, youth in conflict with the law, unemployed/under-employed/working poor youth, teenage parents, adolescent girls, pupils and students and out-of-school youth.
  • Youth programmes are managed and monitored at the government, regional and district levels.


Located along the great rift valley of Africa, Malawi has been a peaceful country since the end of the Slave Trade. Acquiring independence from British rule in 1964, Malawi became a multi-party democracy in 1993. Its economy is predominantly agricultural, with an emphasis on tobacco, tea and coffee exports yet chronic food insecurity plagues the country and it one of the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ranking near the bottom of the Human Development Index, 74% of the population live below the poverty line. Poverty levels have actually worsened in Malawi in recent years, with women constituting the majority of the poor due to socio-economic and cultural marginalisation. Malawi failed to meet three key Millennium Development Goals: Universal Primary Education, Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, and Improvement of Maternal Health.

According to Malawi’s 2008 population and housing census, more than 70% of the population are under 30 years old. By 2030, there will be approximately 7 million children of primary school age, and a further 3 million in secondary school, out of a total population of around 26 million.

Malawi has a birth rate of 157 out of 1,000, a fertility rate of 5.4 and a maternal mortality ratio of 510 (per 100,000 live births). HIV is also an issue in the country, with an 8% prevalence among adult men, and a 13% prevalence among adult women. Adult literacy is at 59.2% despite high primary school enrolment while life expectancy is low at 40.3 years.

As such a high proportion of the population, the youth have few advantages in Malawi. Many employed adolescents work in agriculture and early marriage is common for adolescent girls, averaging at about 20%, putting them at risk of early childbearing and its associated complications, as well as preventing them from finishing schooling and engaging fully in the workforce. One in five adolescent girls have begun bearing children by the age of 17, with only of 25% of married girls, and 30% of unmarried girls using contraception. [Population Reference Bureau].

In 1994, the elected government drafted the National Youth Policy, which identified priority areas of youth development, its centrepiece being the Youth Development Credit Scheme. Without effective implementation mechanisms however, the policy had little impact.

At the 2002 Youth Employment Summit, specific calls were made to restructure the National Youth Policy and the National Youth Council, as well as for the creation of a National Youth Development Fund. The revised National Youth Policy was planned in 2010 and a Youth Enterprise Development Fund was created shortly after. At USD2.2 million, the Fund aims to provide easily accessible loans to young entrepreneurs in the form of working capital and capital equipment.

The 2011/2016 Malawi Growth and Development Strategy highlighted the progress made in addressing challenges faced by the country’s youth: expanded university intake, improved technical and vocational training opportunities, greater access to capital through the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, increased awareness and access to sexual and reproductive health services, and the construction of secondary school boarding facilities for girls.


The national youth policy aims to promote youth development and empowerment to deal with the social, cultural, economic and political challenges they meet. According to the policy, the goal is:

‘to create an enabling environment for all young people to develop to their full potential in order to contribute significantly to personal and sustainable national development.’

The National Youth Policy will seek to fulfil the following objectives:

a) Guide policy makers on issues relating to young people;

b) Mainstream youth development agenda in all national development programmes;

c) Provide guidance on minimum standards for the design of programmes for youth;

d) Guide the adequate allocation and prudent use of resources (financial, human, and material) to youth programmes;

e) Provide guidance for the protection of young people;

f) Advocate for the active participation of young people in the formulation of legislation and policies affecting the youth at all levels;

g) Mainstream gender equity and equality in all youth programmes;

h) Provide guidelines for monitoring and evaluation of youth programmes and ensuring youth are included as active participants;

i) Provide for the establishment of multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary institutional framework for coordination and implementation of youth programmes.

Methods of Implementation

Unlike the preceding policy, which lacked clear strategies, implementation mechanisms and associated policies are clearly stated throughout the updated version.

There are six main priority areas: Youth Participation and Leadership; Youth Economic Empowerment; National Youth Service; Education for Youth; Youth in Science, Technology and Environment; Youth in Health and Nutrition; and Social Services, Sports, Recreation and Culture.

Within these, specific policy statements are outlined, containing clear goals such as a 30% representation of youth in decision-making bodies including Village Development Committees and the National Parliament.

Target groups that are typically socially marginalised are recognised; including teenage parents, youth with disabilities and youth in conflict with the law. The Ministry of Youth and Sports is responsible for coordination and youth policy implementation activities, with planning and monitoring happening at the national, regional and district levels.

The policy is designed to coordinate with existing structures including the Youth Technical Committees and the Sector Working Group on Gender, Children, Youth and Sports. Roles and functions of key stakeholders are clearly mandated. An implementation plan, with desired targets, time frames, key milestones and identified responsibility bearers, is laid out.

The policy also provided for the establishment of a National Technical Working Group on Youth within the Gender, Children, Youth and Sports Sector Working Group (GCY&S SWG). It further advocates for the enactment of other specific legislation that are beneficial to the youth, such as prostitution and drug, alcohol and substance abuse.

Finally, the policy is subject to a review every five years with a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system.




Adopted in 2013, the National Youth Policy was subject to long internal delays. Its publication was greeted warmly, and it is seen as a meaningful step forward in youth participation. Natural disasters and devastating floods have temporarily delayed some implementation, though targets continue to be met.

Training for Youth Friendly Health Services Providers has taken place to help meet young people’s reproductive and sexual health needs. At the Youth Friendly Service Centres, services are provided for free and Youth Net and Counselling provides sexual and reproductive health information, counselling and drop-in centres for young people also for free. A condom campaign is currently being undertaken, to both increase use and awareness in an effort to reduce HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as unwanted pregnancies. Youth networks have also been formed, with over 3,000 youths registered, which aim to disperse information about youth development programmes throughout the country.

The political will to implement youth-oriented policies remains strong. Youth Development and Empowerment was included in the 2011/2016 Malawi Growth and Development Strategy as a key priority area. Malawi is also a signatory to several international commitments to youth development, including the African Youth Charter, the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment (PAYE), the African Youth Decade Plan of Action (DPoA, 2009-2218) and the SADC Youth Protocols. This has ensured an enabling environment conducive to policy implementation. In the 2015/2016 budget Youth Employment and Empowerment has been prioritised.

Potential as a Transferable model

Many of the elements of Malawi’s Youth Policy can be recommended and replicated in other countries:

  • The strong working relationship between government, national youth councils, NGOs and the private sector;
  • Cooperation with other non-youth oriented policies to maximise empowerment and development opportunities;
  • The connection of youth to other key development issues in Malawi;
  • Youth input through consultation meetings;
  • Clear implementation strategies subject to reviews and a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation process.

Malawi’s socio-economic situation should be taken into account here: despite reliance on development partners and its position near the bottom of the Human Development Index, the prioritisation of youth and their identification as a tool for national development serves as an example to other states in the Global South.

Additional Resources

Population Reference Bureau: Malawi Youth Data Sheet 2014.

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