In 2019, more than 60 million adolescents and young people aged 10 to 24 lived in Mercosur member states, according to statistics from the United Nations Population Division.
In Argentina, they represented 23.5%; in Brazil, 23.2%; in Paraguay, 28.5%; in Uruguay, 21.6%.
However, in the most populated border localities, this average is significantly higher, due to late colonization of the territory, as in the case of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), or due to the attraction of internal or international, as in Foz. from Iguaçu.
Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing an accelerated demographic transition process.
And despite the different demographic stages that the countries of the region are going through, the region still has a window of opportunity known as the “demographic bonus”.
Challenges and opportunities
The size of the border is undoubtedly a key variable that influences the conditions and opportunities for the development of adolescents and young people.
The transition to adulthood for those who live in these neighborhoods is particularly complex.
In some regions, a series of social problems have been detected arising from early reproduction, dropping out of school and difficulties in accessing employment, which often arise in the context of an informal and sometimes illicit economy.
All of these factors help to perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty and limit development opportunities.
Lack of access to basic services such as health, education and work has an impact on personal and collective well-being and affects individual decision-making processes.
As adolescents and young people progressively increase their autonomy and achieve full social integration, they will be better able to reach their full potential.
The need for targeted public policies
In this context, four factors demonstrate the need to design targeted policies that take into account the border territory and the life cycle of the people who live there.
First, health coverage for adolescents and young people is lower, with greater precariousness compared to children or the elderly.
Likewise, young people who had health coverage from their parents tend to lose it after the age of 18.
Second, early school leaving tends to be higher in the later years of high school, when young people start to work or take on new tasks. Those who successfully complete high school face greater challenges entering university.
There are few (if any) programs that support the transition from high school to university.
While in the 15-19 age group in the border towns of Posadas (Argentina), Encarnación (Paraguay), Santana do Livramento, Rivera (Uruguay), Concordia (Argentina) and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), more 70% attend an educational institution, in the age group of 20 to 24 years in almost all cases is less than 50%.
Third, there is more economic informality.
In Latin America, informality is 54% on average, according to ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) and the ILO (International Labor Organization), but this percentage tends to increase considerably as time goes on. as we move closer to borders.
The attraction of a large part of the young workforce to precarious jobs has two main consequences.
On the one hand, people who enter the informal economy tend to stay there, which affects the solidarity of social protection systems.
On the other hand, young men tend to migrate from informality to illegality.
As a result, young cross-border workers are highly exposed to being part of smuggling and trafficking networks.
In fourth place, the population of women aged 20-24 who neither study nor work in the largest border towns of Mercosur is large, reaching 38.6% in Rivera. In the next age group, 25 to 29, similar percentages are observed.
Research on ‘time use’ often hides the burden of caring women assume in the home (unpaid work), whether it is looking after younger siblings or children, or household tasks, among others, affecting the development of your personal projects.
The effects of the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on the borders. The closure has truncated social dynamics and the use of cross-border services.
Besides the fact that the impact has been differentiated according to the cities, the uncertainty has “frozen” projects of a more individual nature.
The challenges imposed by the pandemic have increased the need for greater social investment, coordination of actions at borders and a guarantee of social cohesion in order to help overcome the intersectionality of the gaps that affect their populations.
In this context, young women are likely to face new challenges to achieve greater and better participation in post-Covid-19 economic reactivation.
Therefore, specific interventions are needed to ensure their participation in vocational training and entrepreneurship programs, as well as the creation of new care spaces that will allow more women with children to enter the formal labor market.
Besides the difficulties of inhabiting these spaces, the size of the border is an opportunity.
The frontier identity of adolescents and young people is a differential value which makes it possible to generate intercultural life projects that are more associative and respectful of diversity.
It is also an opportunity to implement new forms of participation and social innovation that strengthen your capacity to influence the public agenda.
The development of citizenship in Mercosur which values the role of young cross-border workers is fundamental for the sustainability of regional integration.