Over the past few months we, in Bangladesh and also in many other countries in South and South East Asia, have witnessed unfortunate incidents that have resulted out of radicalization of the youth population and also found expression through the misuse of ethical standards required to be followed within the social media. This has resulted in serious introspection within the civil society as well as in different levels of the social order with regard to our youth dividend.
The importance of this has also been noted by socio-economists who are associated with achieving required Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Attention in this regard has also come to the forefront with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina being awarded the prestigious “Champion for Skills Development for Young People” by the UNICEF during the current UNGA Session in New York. Her observation that “education is the backbone of a nation and no nation can hold their heads high without education” has been particularly welcomed as a measure to solve various aspects of the Youth issue. In addition, her comment that millions of young people with their growing skills are constantly making a difference in our lives has been agreed to. This has been found to be consistent with her statement where she pointed out that this awareness is manifesting itself through Bangladesh’s steady strides in transforming itself into a responsible and knowledge-based society and economy.
All of us want our children to follow the values for the creation of a peaceful and progressive society where collective responsibility will promote virtues and shun vices. In this context we also observe that such an approach will be possible if the elders serve as role models for future /younger generations to help sustain the value system on which dignity and human rights are founded.
It is now generally agreed that Youths represent the majority of the population in most countries and have direct reasons to enjoy human rights- particularly their civil and political rights. There is also consensus that the denial or inability to empower them to enjoy those rights through meaningful and functional education- such as freedom of thought, expression, assembly and association- could lead to many negative results impacting on the whole society and could infringe peace and security. Consequently, such a dynamics would be consistent with the State fulfilling and protecting their economic and social rights- the right to education, work and health. Such a measure could be taken forward through the development of youth programs and policies.
Sociologists feel that ‘Youth’ can be best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of interdependence as members of a community. The UN World Program of Action for Youth sets an age range of 15-24 for youth, which for statistical consistency across regions is applied without prejudice to other definitions by the Member States. UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security defines youth age cohort as 18-29. The African Youth Charter defines the age limit for ‘youth’ as every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.
In practical terms, ‘youth’, instead of being considered as a fixed age-group, needs to be understood as a cultural concept based on socio-cultural contexts and perceptions of different communities. Such an approach will then enable us to apply required measures differently in relation to diverse rights – for example in the justice system, in the labor market, in education, and within the family. It is because of the fluidity of the concept that the UN, when it comes to implementation of youth policies and strategies at the national level, conforms to the age limit and definition of ‘youth’ in a more flexible manner as used by a Member State.
It needs to be understood here that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to individuals under the age of 18. However, young people moving between two stages of life – childhood and adulthood – can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination in various forms. They often encounter difficulties in accessing education, quality employment, social protection and full access to civil and political rights. This sometimes generates anger and negative response.
Consequently, given the barriers young people sometimes face by virtue of their age, there is, one feels, a need for specific protection to tackle discrimination against young people and to remove the barriers that prevent them from accessing their rights.
These rights may be classified into three categories: (a) protecting young peoples' access to amenities and services like food, clothes, shelter, education, etc.; (b) ensuring their safety from abuses, including physical, mental, and psychological; and (c) creating opportunity to evaluate decisions that affect them throughout their life cycle.
It is important to note that in 2019, Ministers responsible for Youth Affairs have committed themselves in the Lisboa+21 Declaration on Youth Policies and Programs to “ensuring the right to meaningful participation of young men and women, youth-led and youth-focused organizations at all levels (from local to global) and in all phases of decision making and implementation processes across all policies that directly and indirectly affect their lives, especially traditionally underrepresented youth, and, to that end, promote inter-generational partnerships that support youth inclusion in decision making as well as the social, economic and political integration of all youth”. Such an approach has been welcomed as a significant factor.
We need to remember that in this day and age of digitalization all sorts of ideas, including extremism and fundamentalism, can easily be indoctrinated in minds. It is this which underlines the importance of investing in character building of youth.
One needs to recall that the first major step towards mainstreaming of youth rights was introduced with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 50/81 on 14 December 1995. This enabled the creation of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and beyond. Adoption of the Security Council resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security was also another important milestone in recognizing the need for youth to take an active role in making and building peace. General Assembly Res. 70/127 of 17 December 2015 and Human Rights Council resolution 32/1 of 30 June 2016 on youth and human rights also reiterated the need for mainstreaming of youth rights. The importance of youth rights as a cross-cutting issue has also been further highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It is clear that we need to have a framework or instrument setting out the particular rights of young people at a global level. This needs to be articulated and promoted through international law.
Many governments, particularly among the Least Developed Countries and also among Developing countries, often do not see the added value or necessity of new instruments promoting youth rights. They hesitate to advocate for new instruments due to the potential resource burdens required for monitoring and reporting.
This is particularly happening in certain countries in Africa and some parts of Asia. They need to understand that a pro-acive and inter-active engagement, instead of hesitation, will help in the creation of better understanding among the Youth of their rights and how to secure and build on their foundations.
We, in Bangladesh, need to understand that we have one of the highest youth concentrations in the world. They can be a source of great benefit to us. Youth represents a remarkable demographic potential for us. They offer unprecedented advantages for our industry, innovation and growth. It is true that we face critical challenges in utilizing this great potential. However, providing quality education and training, generating adequate number of jobs and easing transition from education to labour market, creating equal opportunities in skill formation and job market for both male and female, promoting intergenerational social mobility for better standards of living, ensuring active participation of youth in the society, and reducing addictions of young people to harmful substances and behaviors
A recent survey of the existing situation in the OIC countries unfortunately reveals that most of them are being unable to effectively utilize the crucial potential of their young population. A significant part of this population, in most countries, is remaining inactive and marginalized from policy-making and participation in the socio-political community decision making. This is affecting good governance and accountability. Juxtaposed together, it is also creating its own foot-print on the fulfillment of required SDG objectives.
Such a state of affairs has led economists and observers to mention that there needs to be a greater focus on integrating and using the potential of youth. According to them, this can be achieved by shifting the narrative from addressing the “youth issues” to “youth rights”. Such an approach will have the dual advantage of ensuring the rights of youth as well as harnessing their potentials for building peaceful/ democratic societies and ensuring sustainable development. This, in turn, will promote formal and non-formal education, strengthen moral values of young generations and the spirit of solidarity and also help them to engage in the dialogue among different cultures and civilizations. This process will also facilitate youth capacity building and guided engagement in critical sectors of economic growth, peace and security, human rights and entrepreneurship.
We need to remember that the Sustainable Development Goals aims at integrating the role of young people in public affairs as key to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, inclusive and accountable institutions at all levels. The skills, energy and ideals of young people are vital for strengthening democratic institutions and building inclusive societies without discrimination.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information
and good governance.