Sunday, September 14, 2008


The Value of celebrating `National Youth Day'

(An expert perspective)

It is often repeated that youths are “leaders of tomorrow”, but in many instances they are today’s leaders. Those of us, who had the privilege of participating in youth and social work at an early age, acknowledge the importance of integrating the affairs of young people into public policy. Their involvement creates access to resources that are usually taken for granted or virtually ignored. More young people are `crying out’ for greater involvement in the political process. They also want a say in economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological, environmental and related human endeavours. Thus the celebration of a National Youth Day is important for young people so that they can showcase their talent. It also allows (adult) communities to learn more about the potential benefits from a rich blend of youth and experience, working for the common good.

The United Nations’ definition for `youths’ are people between 15 and 24 years old, and who make up 18% of the world’s population. Young people have more chances at a better education today than ever before, but their transition into the workforce and therefore into adulthood, are impeded by unemployment and poverty (UN World Youth Report April 2008). Almost one billion members of the Commonwealth are under 18. According to the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) which was set up in 1974 as an international agency, “one of the things that is required to advance the youth development agenda is for there to be a more strategic approach, which is why the CYP has been offering its technical expertise.” The agency is dedicated to empowering young people aged 15-29 in member countries. There are four CYP regional centres located in Africa (21 countries), Asia (8 countries), the Caribbean (17 countries) and Pacific (14 countries).

Celebrating National Youth Day is also important because countries can organise various events such as youth caucuses or conferences, enterprise projects, health and social welfare programmes, as well as annual exhibitions for youth and students groups, as well as promoting the work of (established) young entrepreneurs as exemplars for those aspiring to be professionals or self-employed `careerists’.

World Youth Congress
The 4th World Youth Congress which was held recently in Canada, brought together 600 of the “world’s `most dynamic young activists from 120 countries”. The event allowed young people to meet and exchange ideas, information and best practice, by emphasising themes such as: Empowerment, Contribution to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, Selfishness, Integrity and the Global Family; Co-management; Partnership, Dialogue and Co-operation, and Sustainable Development. A major aim of the event was to “honour of the achievements of the most ambitious, most effective and most successful young practitioners of youth-led development, drawing attention to the world’s development professionals in order to provide increased support for youths to become agents of (real) change.”

Indeed, the celebration of young people’s input into national and international developmental goals is also important since the negative attitudes of young people are often glamorised and satirised by public opinion and various institutions, to the point of obscuring the real contribution youths make to their respective societies. Young people are mostly the victims of poverty, exclusion, alienation, crime, broken homes, drug abuse, delinquency or truancy and a spate of other societal ills. They bear the greatest burdens that humanity has heaped upon itself. Those who live in structurally dislocated communities are forced to `grow-up quickly’ by assuming adult lives that they are not necessarily prepared for, thereby contradicting society’s expectations.

In mid-September, the Global Youth Enterprise Conference will be held in Washington and with the youth population reaching a record high of 1.5 billion, economies worlds wide are increasingly unable to provide young people with sustainable jobs. In developing countries the situation is critical where 1.3 billion youths are unable to access gainful employment. As youth employment grew by only 0.2% over the past 10 years, the global youth population grew at a rate of 10.5% (Global Youth Enterprise Conference September 2008).

National Youth Policy
A national day for young people should include a clearly defined policy befitting youths as follows: -

• Youth and Democracy
• Young Enterprise
• Youth Education and Skills
• Youth Culture and Sports
• Youth and Social Welfare
• Young People’s Health
• Young People in Science and Technology
• Youth Citizenship and Governance
• International Co-operation
As we approach the first half of the 21st century, the developed world ought to follow the example of developing Commonwealth countries, by setting aside a day especially for young people. Such an occasion will help to inform and guide social welfare legislation. Moreover, it will show that there is a growing community of matured leaders who are willing to investment in young people, and to create innovations that are necessary to ensure that programmes and policies involving young people achieve greater impact, sustainability and scale.

It should be remembered also, that new ideas from young people can generate tangible economic and social benefits for both them and the wider global community. Mobilising young people is therefore not a token gesture, but instead a vital resource for growth and development. Let us make National Youth Day a permanent fixture in the annual calendar of the global human family.

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