One may ask: “Who are the youth?” According the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2016), youth is “a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of the larger community.” While the youth is a more fluid category than a fixed-age group, age is the easiest way to define the youth in terms of education and employment.
UNESCO adds that a youth is a person who is between the age where he or she may leave compulsory education, and the age where he or she finds his or her first employment. UNESCO uses varied definitions of youth because high levels of unemployment and high cost of putting up an independent household place many young people into prolonged periods ofdependency. Nonetheless, UNESCO uses the definition of UN, which specifies that youth are those persons between the ages of 15 and 24.
The youth can be a creative force and a dynamic source of innovation. They have contributed, catalyzed, and participated in political, social, and economic changes all over the world. The youth have also engaged in peace building, especially in countries characterized by conflict. The international community, through several international conventions and UN resolutions, has recognized these contributions of the youth.
The following are some of the various resolutions and statements that manifest the international community’s recognition on the indispensable role of the youth.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) affirmed everyone’s “right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives” (Article 21).
- The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)—the most widely ratified international agreement—affirmed various civil and political rights for all individuals up to 18 years of age. Specifically, it provides that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (Article 12).
- The World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996, was primarily concerned with the “full and effective participation of the youth in the life of society and in decision-making.”
- The UN A/RES/58/133 Resolution (2003) stressed the “importance of the full and effective participation of youth and youth organizations at the local, national, regional and international levels in promoting and implementing the World Programme of Action and in evaluating the progress achieved and the obstacles encountered in its implementation.”
- In 2011, several UN organizations concerned with the youth signed an inter-agency statement on the UN High-Level Meeting on Youth. Specifically, it emphasized on “full and effective youth participation in society and decision-making, in both rural and urban settings, striving to include young people with disabilities, young people living with HIV, indigenous young people, young people from minorities, young migrants, young people who are stateless, internally displaced, young refugees or those affected by humanitarian situations or armed conflict.”
As mentioned in the previous modules, participation is a fundamental right. Through active participation and citizenship, the youth become empowered to play a vital role not only in their personal development, but also in the advancement of their communities. However, several issues confront the youth such as poverty, limited access to education, various forms of discrimination, and few opportunities for employment, among others. In order for the youth to actively and effectively participate, they must be informed and educated about and be given access to their civil rights (United Nations 2013).