How to tap into our youth dividend and promote SDGs
There has been 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.
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.
In practical terms, instead of considering “youth” as a fixed age-group, it 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 labour market, in education, and within the family.
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.
Youth 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
c) creating opportunity to evaluate decisions that affect them throughout their life cycle
We need to remember that in this day and age, all sorts of ideas, including extremism and fundamentalism, can easily be indoctrinated. 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 December 14, 1995. This enabled the creation of the World Program of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and beyond. 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-active and interactive 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.
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 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 footprint on the fulfilment 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 potential 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 help them to engage in 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 aim 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. He can be reached at [email protected]