The theme of this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD) is Recover with Integrity. The event is held annually on 9 December and was set up by the UN to raise awareness of the devastating impact of corruption, and to look back on the year and assess progress in the fight to eradicate the scourge.

While the UN is looking at this theme in relation to Covid-19 recovery through corruption mitigation, emphasising that inclusive Covid-19 recovery can only be achieved with integrity, CW is taking a slightly different focus.

Our own IACD activity is centred on South Africa’s youth, whose prospects of recovering with integrity from their ongoing exclusion from economic opportunities are becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

During the second half of 2020 we conducted a youth perceptions survey, which shows that youth are acutely vulnerable to corruption and in particular, women and gender non-conforming people. They are routinely asked to engage in corrupt activities to secure a job, or pass their driver’s licence test, or merely gain access to basic goods and services which are their constitutional right.

Simply put, not only are young people victims of corruption, but they are becoming perpetrators too. Forced by unscrupulous officials to pay bribes or provide sexual favours to get what they need, they are in grave danger of coming to view corruption as an accepted practice in order to obtain goods and services, advance in life, or avoid consequences. If this happens, an entire generation will see corruption as the done thing, and anti-corruption activists and organisations as well as law enforcement agencies will have their hands full.

Our report shows that, for instance, 51% of respondents did not consider threatening a teacher with extortion in exchange for high marks on a school paper as corruption. Similarly, only 51% of youth identified the giving of a monetary reward in exchange for a tender to be corruption – and given the appalling levels of corruption exposed over the year in Covid-related procurement, for a kickback to be seen as normal is nothing short of disastrous.

This has to be nipped in the bud. Lives will certainly depend on it.

Our report revealed another worrying situation – that compared to males, those who identify as female or gender non-conforming are more than 50% more likely to be asked to perform sexual favours in exchange for access to a job, financial resources, or better marks. This is an element of gender-based violence, the recent surge of which is driven by gender inequality rooted in patriarchy, says community anti-violence portal SaferSpaces. When men in authority believe they are entitled to make free with the futures of women and gender non-conformists, all of society suffers.

Other results show that 93% of our respondents consider abuse of power, followed by greed (85%), to be the main causes of corruption. They also noted other factors including low salaries, peer pressure, and fear. This puts our youth in an invidious position – to submit to abuse of power and greed and become complicit in corruption in order to progress, or fall behind by missing opportunities.

But South African youth are nothing if not persistent, and our respondents believe that it is still possible to root out corruption in South Africa. Most of them describe themselves as willing to report corruption, even if it is dangerous to do so. Recovering with integrity, for them, is not yet a lost cause.