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Building vocational skills can give young offenders a second chance

Monday July 15 2019

Kisumu National Polytechnic

Kisumu National Polytechnic students operate drilling machines at the Mechanical Engineering block on June 13, 2017. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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A 2018 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey shows that seven million Kenyans were unemployed with 1.4 million of them desperately seeking work.

Most countries in eastern Africa are grappling with unemployment and have sought to impart vocational skills to utilise young energetic minds and also prevent crime.

In a bid to safeguard the welfare of the thousands of youths who find themselves in conflict with the law, the Kenyan government has put in place robust measures to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration. This involves imparting life and other vocational skills to ensure that, upon their release, young ex-offenders do not fall into the frustration of having no income and resort to crime.

Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ is a huge challenge for sustainable development and a risk factor for violence and conflict. Yet with a larger share of the population at working age and a lighter economic burden of dependents, countries could, like other regions, benefit from a ‘demographic dividend’.


This is a good window of opportunity for economic growth that opens when the working-age group (especially 25-55 years) becomes much larger than that of dependent people (children under 15 and adults over 64). Naturally, this also requires availability of productive employment for the working-age population, which is not the case in Africa today.


The World Youth Skills Day being marked today is an occasion to raise awareness of the plight of millions of unemployed youth and the central role that skills development plays in enhancing their ability to make informed choices about life and work.

Kenya has made tremendous strides towards ensuring its youth acquire education to effectively compete in a knowledge-driven yet competency-based world.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 emphasises the equal importance of technical and vocational training in providing the world with skilled and knowledgeable people.

With a vision of empowering young offenders, the Probation and Aftercare Service (PACS) is vital in achieving the ‘Big Four Agenda’.

PACS acts as an enabler in the value chain and manufacturing sector by empowering such juveniles with requisite skills, knowledge and tools. It also enables the provision of affordable housing by equipping young offenders with vocational skills such as masonry, plumbing, carpentry and electrical wiring.


The Regional Office for Eastern Africa of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supports the government in imparting valuable skills to these young people. Kenya as a beacon of hope in Africa in using the Big Four as an enabler to guarantee productive employment for youth at risk and ex-offenders.

We are assisting PACS to strengthen its delivery of justice services through the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD), a European Union-funded partnership. This includes preparing juvenile ex-offenders and their families for the difficult prospect of reintegrating into the community. Young Kenyans who have served their time in custody and undergone rehabilitation deserve a second chance at life.

UNODC support for the Department of Children Services has seen the Kirigiti and Dagoretti Girls’ Rehabilitation Centres each provided with two sewing machines to support new vocational training in tailoring and dressmaking, made possible with funding from the Government of Canada.

Further, Lang'ata Women’s Prison has been equipped with a food mixer and industrial oven for use during baking and culinary entrepreneurship training. This is only a building block in the entire rehabilitation and social integration scheme which needs to be scaled up.

Fundamentally, there is a need to remove the stigma towards youth released from detention. They can be a powerful asset in the economy and future of the country.

Dr Andrés is the Regional Representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. [email protected] @Amado_de_Andres