Mainstreaming youth in the post 2015 development agenda

Monday, 5 May 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Mohan Lal Grero “This earth and its vegetation are yours. They should be protected not for your benefit but also for the benefit of future generations. A ruler is only a temporary trustee and not an owner of your children’s heritage. This century belongs to the youth. It is the century of knowledge”: President Mahinda Rajapaksa – Mahinda Chinthana Vision for the Future (The National Policy Document of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka).    The World Conference on Youth (WCY 2014) will be held in Sri Lanka from 6 to 10 May at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. This is the 15th World Conference on youth. The initial youth conference was held in 1936 and afterwards there were 14 such conferences   on youth that were held in various regions in the world covering Europe, Africa, and America etc. The last conference was held in Mexico City in the year 2010. Dullas Alahapperuma, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development was present at the Mexico Conference. At this occasion the Minister expressed the willingness of Sri Lanka to host the next World Conference on youth. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his address at the UN General Assembly in 2013, announced that Sri Lanka is hosting the World Conference on Youth scheduled for 2014. Since the official announcement of hosting the conference, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, having the official mandate for the subject of youth affairs along with National Youth Services Council (NYSC), has been making necessary institutional and logistical arrangements to hold the conference on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka. Action was taken to form a steering committee to spearhead the conference. This committee is co-chaired by Minister Dullas Alahapperuma and MP Namal Rajapakse, the Founder Leader of ‘Tharunnyayata Hetak’. An International Youth Task Force (IYTF) consisting 20 youth leaders, 10 youths representing five different regions in the world (two youths per region) and another 10 youths from Sri Lanka have been appointed. The role of the IYTF is to guide the organisational arrangements, ensure increased participation and prepare conference program and direct conference proceedings on the correct path so that the intended objectives are achieved. Action was also taken to establish a WCY Secretariat within the Ministry premises to function under the supervision and guidance of the Secretary to the Ministry in this massive task. The theme of the WCY 2014 is ‘Mainstreaming Youth in a Post 2015 Development Agenda’. Ahmed Alhindawi, the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth states: “With half or the world population under 25 years, youth must be the driving force and in the driving seat of the new development agenda. Let us prove that our generation can end extreme poverty, ensure sustainability, protect human dignity and address the inequality.” This statement signifies the value of the young population and their role in future development. The young population are the next generation of leaders who will be undertaking the three-fold responsibilities of democratic governance, social and economic development in the world. The upcoming conference is therefore vitally important in addressing crucial issues encountered by youth; finding sustainable solutions and explore their full potential in future development at an individual country and a regional and global level.   Youth around the world, their strengths, weaknesses and issues Countries around the world define youth differently taking various age limits into consideration. Those who are between the ages of 15 to 19 years are considered as adolescents while individuals between the ages of 15 to 24 years are regarded as youth. In certain countries individuals from 15 to 29 years are treated as youth. However, the UN recognition is that youth are those between the ages of 15 to 24 years. To ascertain the degree of significance of the youth conference, it is worth highlighting some of the critical factors that have been realised in relation to the present status of youth in the world. According to statistics illustrated in recent documents published by UN organisations and youth-led agencies, the size of the young population in the world is considerably large, amounting to 1.8 billion and representing 18% of the total world population. This is the largest youth population the world has ever known. If the number of children is added up, the percentage increases up to 40%. As far as regional distribution of youth is concerned, the largest concentration of youth is in the Asian countries, accounting for 60%. The remaining 40% live in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and developed countries. It is believed that the world’s young population aged 15 to 29 will be tremendously increased by 2030 and this increase is prominently visible in less developed countries. Issues and challenges of the young population have different elements. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 2011 report, 75.8 million youth are currently unemployed in the world. Approximately 238 million youths live in extreme poverty with a daily income of less than $ 1 per day and nearly 110 million youth suffer from starvation. A total of 133 million young people are illiterate. Surveys conducted by World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal that about 11.8 million young people live with HIV and around 7,000 youth are affected by HIV daily. These statistics show the plight of a substantial proportion of the young population at a global level and their social and economic vulnerability. Core issues pertaining to youth in many countries appear to be common. In developing countries, poverty and unemployment are considered as key issues. Their economies are unable to provide sufficient job opportunities to absorb the expanding labour force on an annual basis. Global economic crises and youth unemployment Global economic crises have further aggravated unemployment and underemployment among youth. A significant number of young people in developing countries migrate to foreign destinations seeking better opportunities. Out of them, unskilled youth migrants have to work under harsh conditions for meagre salaries. Those who migrate seeking employment illegally end up with various unfortunate circumstances. The UN assembly in July, 2011 concluded its thematic discussion on youth by identifying unemployment as a critical issue and the need for a solid mechanism for generation of employment opportunities for youth. Young populations have a comprehensive understanding of their problems and are in a better position to provide pragmatic solutions for them. But there is little empirical evidence available for countries taking the experience, and viewpoints of youth into account during the decision-making process. Youth are considered as troublemakers and are a burden to societies. During the process of going from childhood to a young age, they undergo physical and psychological changes. As a result they sometimes become aggressive and violent. Countries haven’t been able so far to use the potential of youth for social and economic development. Marginalisation of youth and the disparaging attitudes of society towards youth are prominent issues among as well. Limited allocation of funds for youth-focused interventions is another conspicuous issue in developing countries. Youth in Sri Lanka, organisations, policies and programs Sri Lanka has been known as a welfare state since independence, with a significant annual spending of public funds for human resource development. As a result, the country gained impressive indicators in education and health surpassing its counterparts in the region. When the present government came into power a wide array of initiatives focusing on youth were launched. The Government manifesto, ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Forward Vision’ has attached top priority for youth-focused initiatives empowering youth. The policy document has recognised that the development of the country is largely dependent on the opportunities provided for the youth to build skills and to allow them to practically use such skills. A separate ministry was set up with a mandate of youth development. State institutions providing vocational training and technical education were brought under the same ministry for the smooth operation of both youth development and skills development interventions which will entirely benefit the youth. A NVQ framework has been introduced for youth to acquire competencies and skills needed to work in today’s modern work environment. The University of Vocational Technology was established for them to elevate themselves up to the degree level in a technical stream. A ‘Youth Parliament’ was conceived in 2011 consisting of 412 members and covering all ethnic groups. These members were trained in active participation in debates, democratic ideals and the decision-making process. They are expected to play important roles in the democratic process in the future. This is the first such step taken by a government in the world to empower its youth. The recently launched youth policy has made provisions for full exploitation of potential in youth for the development of the country. Among others, the peaceful environment created in the country has contributed towards the development of the small and medium industry sector, providing opportunities for entrepreneurial youth to commence such industries. Hence, the Government has introduced several credit schemes for young entrepreneurs to obtain much needed capital. Steps have also been taken for the expansion of IT education in rural areas through providing IT equipment and teachers to a considerable number of rural schools. The youth that account for almost 28% of the population have received benefits via these initiatives. The Commonwealth has ranked Sri Lanka in the medium category of countries in terms of development and youth empowerment. Among 170 countries assessed, Sri Lanka is the 72nd country falling into the medium category. A series of poverty focused village development programs implemented over the last several years have contributed towards poverty reduction, minimising regional disparities in development and in the growth of the economy. The cumulative effects of these overall interventions have achieved impressive progress in the country’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) compared to other developing countries. Unattended issues remaining for decades are not possible to resolve in the short-run. Nonetheless youth-related issues should not be postponed under any circumstances since Sri Lanka has come across unpleasant experiences on several occasions due to unrest developed among youth. Among problem areas needing attention are unemployment, underemployment, lack of skills, lack of access to quality education and marginalisation. Nearly 300,000 school leavers annually fall in to the labour force without passing their O/Ls and A/Ls. Our economy is unable to provide decent employment opportunities for this expanding labour force. Underemployment among educated youth stands at around 9%. Deficiencies in the education system and the inability of the economy to generate sufficient employment opportunities are the root causes. Agriculture, where there is a potential for employment generation in rural villages does not expand adequately. Most of our youth do not have competencies and skills to successfully carry out available employment opportunities in the manufacturing and service sectors. Youth in both rural and estate sectors are in a disadvantageous position in terms of access to services and facilities. Youth in the estate sector are mostly vulnerable due to language and cultural barriers. Drug and alcohol abuse, violence and crime appear to be increasing among Sri Lankan youth. The WCY 2014:  Organisation, objectives, participation, work program and expected outcomes The importance of WCY2014 need to be looked at against this background to find ways and means that better address youth issues and fruitfully utilise the potential they possess. The overall objective of the WCY 2014 is to find ways and means that strengthen and ensure youth participation in the process of planning, implementation and evaluation of the post-2015 development agenda. The, specific objectives of the conference are: i.Creation of an enabling environment for the youth to review and ascertain the realisation of Millennium Development Goals. ii. Exchange knowledge, experience and lessons learned for effective contribution to the post-2015 development agenda. iii. Raise awareness and facilitate implementation of the World Program for Action on Youth. iv. Strengthen partnerships of youth, youth-led organisations and youth movements, and ensure their active participation in the decision-making process, v. Establishment of a permanent mechanism for youth to continuously follow up and enhance their participation in the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda at the three levels; national, regional and international. The upcoming conference which outlines eight thematic areas, are as follows:
  • Equal access for youth to quality education
  • Full employment and entrepreneurship development
  • Poverty eradication, food security
  • Access to health
  • Environment protection, emergency preparedness and youth-centred urbanisation
  • Peace, reconciliation and ending violence
  • Inclusive recreation and sports
In addition, the following foundations will be considered at the conference in identifying the foundational role of the young population in development. The seven foundational areas are:
  • Achieving good governance and accountability.
  • Inclusive youth participation at all levels.
  • Youth rights.  
  • Globalisation and access to information led-development.
  • Ending systemic inequalities.
  • Gender equality.
  • Empowering marginalised youth which includes youth most at risk
Conference participation The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development has ensured the participation of diverse categories of youth representing almost all the countries in the world and adequately covering various segments of youth. A total of 196 countries are expected to send their national youth delegates for the conference. Two young individuals, a male and a female per country will be participated. So far 160 countries have already confirmed the participation of their delegates in the conference.  Another 350 competent international youth delegates were selected by the IYTF through the process of application and telephone interviews. There are 200 Sri Lankan youth that will participate at the conference. One hundred youth from the Youth Parliament of Sri Lanka, and the rest selected through applications representing all Divisional Secretary Divisions in the country. Apart from that, 24 ministers dealing with the subject of youth affairs, 105 high level officials from different countries, 40 officials from various UN organisations, young academics and corporate sector representatives will participate. The conference will receive the service of facilitators in running the conference and help thematic discussions. Social media representatives will facilitate the conference participants ensuring a high outreach. Sri Lanka expects around 1,500 participants in total at the conference. The program The opening ceremony of the WCY2014 will be held on Tuesday 6 May at the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa International Convention Centre (MRICC), Hambantota. The actual conference is to be held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall on 7, 8 and 9 May. The program has been designed in such a way as to utilise the participants’ knowledge, ideas, experience and viewpoints in full to produce a practical implementable document at the end.   Side events have also been planned to examine the policy instruments concerning the conference foundations and themes in detail.  They are headed by external organisations selected by the IYTF in accordance with the relevance of the theme. Parallel events will also cover capacity building, projects and programs carried out by organisations on youth development. Round tables or thematic policy sessions of the conference which are led by an international facilitator and a Sri Lankan facilitator. A minister and a youth, having experience with the given topic, and an expert will address each round table discussion assuring diverse set of ideas. The outcome of round table discussions will be fed into the final conference document. An exhibition has also been arranged in relation to the themes of the conference at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Centre at the BMICH. The closing ceremony of the event will be on Saturday 10 May at BMICH. Expected outcomes of WCY 2014 At the end of the conference, ‘The Colombo Declaration on Youth’, consisting of policy instruments strategies, programs,  projects and actions together with follow up mechanism to effective utilisation of world youth in future development will be finalised, consolidating the proceedings with the consensus of key stakeholders. This document would address the following subject areas: a. Raise awareness on the World Program for Action on Youth. b. Streamline interregional dialogue to strengthen youth participation in development. c. Encourage the establishment of National Youth Councils. d. Increased investment for youth development. e. Prioritise youth for the post-2015 development agenda. f .Increased commitment to youth policy. g. Establishment of a global youth fund. h.Promote the establishment of a UN Permanent Forum for youth. i. Establish youth friendly cities. j. Promote a mechanism for youth volunteerism. There is a notable difference of the present conference outcome. All previous events have produced two different documents, one from policy makers and the other from participant youths. The current conference would produce one consolidated report containing the ideas, viewpoints and experience of all stakeholders that have reached a consensus aiming at a common goal through intergenerational dialogue. Conclusion The WCY 2014   has twin objectives. One is to ensure the full contribution of youth in the post-2015 development agenda, and the other is to build up a bright future for youth at global, regional and individual country levels. The participants, UN authorities and representatives of individual countries that play a role in the conference have to pay vigorous attention to explore means as to how these two-fold objectives are achieved in a sustainable manner. It is our duty to ensure that the outcomes of the conference generate adequate benefits in terms of Youth empowerment, enabling them to actively participate in future development initiatives. Past experiences show that piece-meal approaches are not adequate to address overall issues pertaining to youth and to realise intended objectives. Attempts should be made to review the steps involved in the whole process from primary education to employing youth in the modern corporate world, addressing core issues and recommending policy instruments, strategies and programs. We are proud of being the first Asian nation to host this vital international event. The opportunity to host the WCY 2014 by Sri Lanka is a unique honour that a country receives. In addition to achievement of conference objectives, this event is important to Sri Lanka in many social and economic terms. The participants will become aware the commitment of the Government and initiatives taken towards empowerment of the country’s young population.   We can enlighten the participants with our real experiences in the role of youth in the recent peace building efforts in Sri Lanka. The participants can share the experience of Sri Lanka in providing an enabling environment for different communities to live in harmony and trusting each other. This is an ideal occasion to enlighten the world on the true situation in Sri Lanka, dismissing the misconceptions intentionally fabricated and spread around the world. (The writer is the Deputy Minister of Education and a Monitoring MP of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Skills Development. He can be reached via