The impact of mobile phones on young people's lives and life chances in sub-Saharan Africa: a three country study to inform policy and practice

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Mobile phones offer new opportunities and life chances, but also new dangers. Young people can benefit particularly from a better understanding of both potential advantages and dangers of improved phone access for expanding their (virtual) mobility.

The key research question of this project is:

  • how is the rapid expansion of mobile phone usage impacting on young lives and how can policy makers support the positive aspects of change (and constrain negative elements)? 


The project builds directly on previous research on children’s mobility in which baseline quantitative data and preliminary qualitative information was collected on mobile phone usage. In this study a wider range of issues will be covered, eg:

  • changes in gendered (and age) patterns of phone use over time; phone use in building social networks to support job search etc
  • impacts on education, employment, livelihoods and health status
  • safety and surveillance
  • possible connections to migration
  • youth identity, image
  • exploitation/empowerment questions.


Mixed-method, participatory child-centred studies will be conducted in the same 24 sites across Ghana, Malawi and South Africa (urban, peri-urban, rural, remote rural in two agro-ecological zones per country).  It will build on the baseline data for 9-18 year-olds through repeat and extended studies, plus additional studies with 19-25 year-olds  (to capture changing usage and its impacts as our initial cohort move into their 20s). The country research teams will include available ‘child’ researchers from our previous study.

We aim to achieve impact both among Direct and Indirect Beneficiaries.

Direct beneficiaries include:

a) Young people (male and female) in our 24 study communities, who suffer many disadvantages in their lives and for whom mobile phones offer new opportunities and life chances, but also new dangers. (Their parents/carers and dependents will also benefit.) Girls and women would benefit particularly from better understanding of both potential advantages and dangers of improved phone access for expanding their (virtual) mobility; those in the remotest locations and from the poorest socio-economic groups may benefit most, given common constraints on their access to income and livelihoods, since the mobile phone offers enormous potential to leapfrog physical mobility constraints;

b) Mobile phone network companies which need to maintain a positive public profile, by alerting them to potential hazards so that they can work to introduce safeguards;

c) government departments;

d) NGOs/CBOs which are directed at safeguarding young people and promoting their well-being. With each of these groups we will disseminate and discuss our findings about opportunities, dangers and relevant potential safeguarding measures;

e) Young researchers (especially those currently unemployed) from the Child Mobility study who, through work in this project, will obtain direct financial benefit plus additional work experience valuable for their career development. They will consolidate the research techniques they learned in the CM study and benefit through further engagement with Country Consultative Group (CCG) members (youth, health and other ministries, NGOs, phone network companies etc.) (The CCG meetings are crucial for sensitisation of key actors, promoting commitment, ownership and dissemination of research outputs, so that country-wide policy and practice impacts are generated.)

Potential Indirect Beneficiaries include young people, their dependents and carers across the 3 study countries (i.e. constituting well over half the total population per country) and other potential users.

Target audiences include in-country Ministries of Women and Children's Affairs, Communications, Employment, Health, Education, Transport; local youth-focused NGOs/CBOs, and those working in livelihoods, communications, education, health etc; in-country and international private sector mobile phone network providers; international NGOs focused on young people; relevant bilateral and multilateral agencies (e.g. DFID, SDC, World Bank, UNICEF); African Technology Policy Studies Network; National Forum Groups of the International Forum for Rural Development and Transport (IFRTD).

Our project evidence base and policy guidelines will have wide value in our focus countries, across Africa and beyond, promoting sensitisation to young people's needs among both our identified beneficiaries (particularly youth, their parents/carers and dependents) and target audiences (policy makers, practitioners and the private sector), and to the positives and negatives offered by mobiles phones. It should help maximise the benefits of rapid mobile phone adoption among young people and minimise the disbenefits, with consequent improvements in the well-being of young people, their dependants and carers in Africa (and elsewhere). Particular attention will be given to dissemination to local and international intermediary organisations that will deliver findings on to end-users.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
ES/J018082/1
Project Status: 
Active
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Anthropology
Fund Start Date: 
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Fund End Date: 
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
465367
Mobile-phones
livelihoods
youth
physical-mobility
life-chances
health
well-being
empowerment
gender
inter-generational-relations
ruralurban-youth-migration
access-to-health-care
employment
education
Social-movements
political-processes
micro-enterprise
job-search