Youth unemployment in Sri Lanka maintains a tenacious grip despite cyclical protests and unfulfilled government promises to tackle the problem. Mahesh Vimukthi, convener of a group called the Unemployed Graduates’ Union (UGU), is one of those who take to the streets to demand government action. But he says the most common official response is to fire tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators. Vimukthi and others say they have no alternative other than to continue to protest because authorities have yet to develop a concrete strategy to create more jobs for young people. There are more than 60,000 unemployed graduates from schools and universities and the number continues to grow, he said. According to a labor force survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics, the unemployed population was estimated at 352,875 during the first quarter 2017. The youth unemployment (aged 15-24) rate was the highest at 18.5 percent. Unemployment among females is higher than for males. Aruna Sanjeewa, 23, who has gone for at least nine interviews, said public sector jobs are hard to get without access to political party networks. He noted that many periods of political unrest in the country during the 1970’s 1980s were linked to youth frustration over unemployment. This included insurrections led by the militant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front) during which an estimated 60,000 people were killed or disappeared. Sanjeewa also noted that unemployment was a factor in resentments that led to the long civil war between Tamil militants and security forces. The conflict started in 1983 and did not end until the so-called Tamil Tigers were militarily defeated in 2009, with up to 100,000 people killed. According to the United Nations, more than 40,000 civilians died during the last stages of fighting. Father Anton Ranjith, director of the Tec Vithanika Technical Training center, described unemployment among rural youth in Sri Lanka as a “burning” problem.
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He said that the church-run center has trained young boys and girls as technicians since 1983, including 100 this year. “The center runs mechanical training course, including for motor vehicles, fridges and air-conditioners. “We give leadership training and provide a national certificate affiliated with the Ministry of Vocational Training,” said Father Ranjith. With the qualification they could get local jobs or work abroad. Aruna Shantha Nonis, who runs ‘Born To Win Relationships’ for youth, complained about insufficient mentoring of young people so they could seek appropriate qualifications Vocational training should be holistic and develop positive attitudes needed to successfully enter the workforce, he added.