Even though Ecuador has recently seen a period of political stability and economic growth, the most vulnerable segments of the population still face many challenges. This is particularly the case with people who have refugee status or who are in need of international protection, due to rising discrimination and xenophobia. Young refugees are at risk of exclusion from secondary and tertiary education as well as through lack of knowledge about their rights. RET implements a holistic program in Ecuador that includes initiatives for access to the educational system, strengthening Ecuador’s institutional capacity, and trainings to develop the life skills, employability skills and rights awareness of vulnerable young people. A defining characteristic of our action is the inclusion of the family unit as a whole in our programme design and a strong focus on young women heads of households.
The Crisis Affecting Ecuador
Its Impact on Young People
How RET Protects Them
1. The Crisis Affecting Ecuador
Ecuador is home to over 15 million people and is experiencing a period of political stability and economic growth. Investment in health and education has risen, expanding coverage of basic and secondary education and placing Ecuador at the fifth position among countries of the region in terms of low child mortality.
In this generally positive trend, the challenges faced by more vulnerable segments of the population can easily be overlooked. Individuals with refugee status or in need of international protection are at risk of becoming invisible. Their situation is further aggravated by the introduction of the Mercosur Visa (which does not recognise their need for protection) and the substantial decrease in refugee status recognition.
Risks related to violence also remain present in numerous communities: within families, based on gender or as an act of discrimination. This phenomenon can jeopardise the progress achieved by Ecuador and prevents the most vulnerable segments of the population from overcoming the crisis they face and planning their future.
As Ecuador is the country with the highest number of refugees in the region (in December 2013 a total of 55’000 regufees were recognised, 98% of which are from Colombia) it remains constantly exposed to unforseen crises, not only for people in need of international protection, but also for the most vulnerable segments of the host society.
2. Its Impact on Young People
According to the latest official census, in Ecuador 60% of the population is under 30 and 35% are adolescents and youth between 15 and 29 years old. Official sources place violence as the second cause of mortality amongst young people in Ecuador, with preoccupying reports of auto-mutilation among young women. Vulnerable minorities have less access to their rights as a consequence of “cultural violence”, which is manifested through discrimination, xenophobia and exclusion.
For afro-descendants, indigenous populations, migrants and refugees enrolment in secondary and tertiary education is 15% lower than for mestizos who represent the majority of Ecuadorians. Access to employment is 3 times lower among young people than adults, which pushes them to work in subsistence jobs lacking proper wages. Youth participation in the labour force is comprised of those who have had access to higher education, however only 10% of youth finish university and only 2% have access to a Masters degree level.
The situation of young refugees is particularly preoccupying and Ecuador is the country of the region with the highest number people in need of international protection. An estimated 12’000 refugee adolescents and youth live in the country. They have to fight to lead a dignified life and to exercise their rights in a context of growing xenophobia and discrimination.
Social risks such as early pregnancy (the second highest rate in the region) and drug consumption are problems which acutely affect adolescents and youth in fragile contexts such as in border regions or places of high concentration of displaced populations.
3. How RET Protects Them
RET International understands that education is one of the most efficient protection tools. We know that many different educational tools have to be used in numerous areas of intervention in order to protect adolescents and youth who have been displaced, are victims of violence, are engaged in under-aged labour or are part of ethnic minorities or face another number of vulnerable situations.
In Ecuador, as in the region as a whole, RET implements a holistic programme.
One of the main objectives is to provide access to the educational system for vulnerable young people. This is done in close coordination with both local and national authorities. RET seeks to strengthen Ecuador’s institutional capacities in order to help them better serve vulnerable young people.
In addition, RET develops trainings in life skills, allowing young people (both refugees and from the host community) to confront their vulnerabilities such as gender discrimination and violence. The acquisition of these skills also allows them to become examples for their peers and positive actors of change in their communities.
We also develop employability skills, which allow young people to plan their future and improve their living conditions. RET provides this training either directly or through strategic local alliances. In order to be sustainable RET also ensures that the whole family is included in this approach, focusing specifically on young women heads of households. The basic needs of the entire family group have to be met, for real positive change to develop.
Empowerment and youth participation are a cross–cutting aspect of our work. All the young people who participate in our programmes are equally trained in leadership skills to allow them to become agents of change within their communities and have a say on issues that affect them. We believe that young people themselves can reduce their own factors of vulnerability and lead their communities towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.