The United Nations study on Global Profiles on the Situation of Youth: 2000-2025 gives us an opportunity to consider in a wider youth-oriented context the youth we work with in our programs. An extract from the document.
1. As the United Nations World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond states, “the capacity for progress of our societies is based, among other elements, on their capacity to incorporate the contribution and responsibility of youth in the building and designing of the future. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilise support, they bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account".
Two prominent Malaysians have also expressed it well. Firstly, in the words of Tunku Abdur Rahman, founder father of Malaysia:
"If we are to be true statesmen, we must take into account the needs, the desires and the ambitions of the generations for whom we plan our development. No architect would build a house without consulting the wishes of those who live in it, and designing the house to their own way of life".
Secondly, the words of Mr Saifuddin Abdullah, the General Secretary of the Malaysian Youth council,
"Youth are citizens and partners of development of today, and citizens and leaders of the future. Youth is a unique and strategic developmental period. They are both a major human resource for development and national building, and agents of change for advancement and innovation in all spectrums of life. Hence, every effort in the youth development movement by all sectors should be planned and implemented in a synergised, integrated, comprehensive, balanced, relevant, effective, efficient and continuous manner".
2. The mobilisation of youth passion, creativity and unique perspectives of their current and future needs is now increasingly seen as both a global and national priority. The design, implementation and evaluation of national youth policies and national youth action plans of an intersectoral nature is now advocated as essential mechanisms for both the identification of youth needs and concerns, and as a way of promoting greater youth participation in the building of the society of both today and tomorrow. For example, Commonwealth Youth Ministers meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (May 1995) stated in their declaration “we propose that all Commonwealth Governments should make a special commitment to youth development. This should take the form of the development, refinement and implementation of National Youth Policies as instruments of change".
3. A national youth policy is a document of national significance. It represents a nationally agreed formula for meeting the needs and aspirations of young women and men and provides a framework for youth development. It is both an acknowledgment of the specific needs of young people as well as formal recognition of their potential and unique contribution to national development. The Commonwealth Youth Programme defines the concept of a national youth policy as “a practical demonstration and declaration of the priority and directions that a country intends giving to the development of its young women and men. A national youth policy specifically represents a gender-inclusive statement that encapsulates the elements of vision, framework and realistic guidelines from which strategies and initiatives can be developed to facilitate meaningful youth participation and development within a country". John Ewen, internationally recognised for his work on national youth policy formulation in countries like Pakistan and Zambia, provides further elaboration of the dimensions of a national youth policy with this comment:
"National Youth Policy must be based on two essential and interlocking objectives; the enablement of young people to make a constructive contribution now and in the future towards the economic, social and cultural development of their own country; and the recognition that youth is vulnerable, and that safeguards must be created to prevent the exploitation of youth, politically, economically and morally. Thus youth policy is primarily developmental, but also protective and remedial".
4. The following series of quotes provide an excellent cross section of international comment regarding the concept of a national youth policy:
"A national youth policy represents the basis and framework for youth development within a country, a starting point for all groups seeking to be relevant to the needs and aspirations of young people". (Dr Richard Mkandawire, Regional Director, Commonwealth Youth Programme Africa Centre).
"Policy may be defined as the principle or foundation where all causes of a certain reaction to be taken are based upon. National Youth Policy would therefore mean the guiding principles for planning and implementation of activities related to the development of the youths. The National Policy is a policy for the importance of the youths. It is a guideline for the government and the private sector in planning and implementing programmes according to the needs and aspirations of the youths". (Mr Mohammed Shahidul Alam, former Director General, Department of Youth Development, Bangladesh).
"The enunciation of youth policy is a manifestation of political will and commitment of the nation to the cause of all-round development of youth and their integration with other sections of the society. While it addresses major concerns and issues crucial for young people, it provides validity and direction to youth programs and services and spells out the strategy and broad guidelines for the planning and implementation. It also incorporates suitable measures for channelling the energies and potential of youth for national development". (Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Centre, Regional Policy Consultation Statement, 1992).
"The purpose of a national youth policy” is to establish a national framework to meet the needs of all Australians. It will ensure better coordination of youth policy development and programs and service delivery across agencies. The statement encourages recognition of young people and the contribution they make to the community." (An Australian Youth Policy: A statement of Principles and Objectives, 1993, p3).
"The purpose of this policy document is to establish formally, clearly and firmly the identity and status of the Malawian youth as a distinct sector of government policy, and to create a direction for youth activities and programmes for various interest groups". (National Youth Policy, Republic of Malawi).
"All of South Africa will benefit through the implementation of the National Youth Policy. By placing young people in the broader context of reconstruction “and development. The National Youth Policy highlights the importance of youth development to nation building and the creation of a democratic, productive and equitable society". (Mahlengi Bhengu, Chairperson, National Youth Commission of South Africa).
"This policy document is intended to induce young people and their organisations, Government and other authorities in the country to take a more active role in the construction of the present and future of our society". (National Youth Policy, Malta).
"A national Youth Policy provides broad guidelines, from which action, programmes and services can be developed, to facilitate meaningful involvement of youth in national development efforts that will respond to their various needs and problems “a source of guidance to planners, whether on micro or macro economic planning level or human resource development, health services or any development planning, whatsoever". (Hon. Pendukeni Iwula-Ithana, former Namibian Minister of Youth and Sport).
5. The World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond provides a clear message of endorsement of the importance of national youth policy and action plans:
"Young people in all countries are both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation. Their imagination, ideals, considerable energies and vision are essential for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. The problems that young people face as well as their vision and aspirations are essential components of the challenges and prospects of today’s societies and future generations. Thus, there is a special need for new impetus to be given to the design and implementation of youth policies and programmes at all levels. The ways in which the challenges and potential of young people are addressed by policy will influence current social and economic conditions and the well being and livelihood of future generations". The World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond recommended to Governments that have not already done so to formulate and adopt an integrated national youth policy as a means of addressing youth related concerns. It suggested that such measures be taken as part of a continuing process of review and assessment of the situation of youth, formulation of a cross-sectoral national youth programme of action in terms of specific, time-bound objectives and a systematic evaluation of progress achieved and obstacles encountered.
6. The Commonwealth Youth Programme, in its Youth Policy 2000 Handbook expressed similar sentiments:
"The creation of a national youth policy is an acknowledgment of the specific needs of young women and men, as well as a formal recognition of their unique contribution to national development. It provides a means and a symbol for society as a whole to declare, document and intensify their commitment to young citizens, and an opportunity to determine appropriate priorities, goals and strategies. It provides an opportunity to give expression to a national’s understanding of values, rights and responsibilities as regard to their young women and men. As a document of national and historic significance, a national youth policy, with its associated action plans and programmes, will raise the profile and understanding in the wider community about young women and men, their potential and the constraints they face in realizing that potential. Above all, a national youth policy will promote a framework for action for all agencies and organisations interested in the needs and interests of young women and men".
7. The Malaysian Youth Council was of the opinion that a new National Youth Policy was needed in Malaysia, in order to:
8. Australia, USA and Canada provide interesting examples of countries where there is no single youth policy of an intersectoral nature. In the words of the Youth Bureau of the Australian Government, “the development of youth policy is a continuing process with emerging issues being incorporated over time". Defined policy and action appears very comprehensive yet sectionalised within specific sectors. In Australia, for example, while no single integrated national youth policy exists, within the health sector alone the following policies and strategies currently exist.
A National Health Plan for youth Australians
A National Child and Youth Health Information Strategy
A National Drug Strategy
A Schools Drug Education Strategy
A National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy
A National Strategy for Health Promoting Schools
9. While young women and men are perceived as beneficiaries of any national development plans and initiatives, there is growing recognition of the value and wisdom of any nation to look at the wide range of issues, challenges and opportunities from the perspective of the particular needs, aspirations and contributions of its young people. Syed Parvez Ali Shah Jilani, former Minister of State for Youth Affairs in Pakistan reminds us of the significance of young men and women in instigating change in history. “Youth has been a nucleus of socio-economic as well as socio-political changes at every junction of history". Recent events in Afghanistan and Indonesia are typical examples of the significant role young people play in change. Similarly, the global magnitude of young women and men cannot be ignored. It is estimated that the youth population in 1995 was 1.03 billion, comprising 18% of the world's population, 84% of whom are living in developing countries. Those members of the population below the age of 30 years could form as much as 55% of the world's population by the year 2005. In the least developed countries of the world, the figure is closer to 70%.
10. The focus on the youth sector is magnified not only be the sheer size of its population size, but also because of the critical stage they are at. The UN ESCAP view of the situation of youth in Asia and the Pacific captured this well “"It is important to recognise youth as a unique group in society due to the many aspects of vulnerability they face while passing through a major stage in their lives” In addition to a recognition of the vulnerability associated with the transitional nature of the identity of youth, it is equally important to recognise youth as a positive force, as a human resource with enormous potentials for contributing to development". Or in the words of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond “Young people represent agents, beneficiaries and victims of major societal changes and are generally confronted by a paradox: to seek to be integrated into an existing order or to serve as a force to transform that order. Young people in all parts of the world, living in countries at different stages of development and in different socio-economic settings, aspire to full participation in the life of society."
11. According to the Commonwealth Youth Charter, national youth policies and action plans represent an acknowledgment and response to the fact that young women and men:
form a significant proportion of most
national populations (in some commonwealth countries this exceeds 50
need a supportive, anticipatory and informative environment to move successfully from the dependence of childhood to the autonomy and responsibility of adulthood;
have a unique contribution to make to national development due to their energy, enthusiasm, resilience and an ability to inject a fresh focus;
have had less life experience and often significantly less access to information, resources and power over their lives then older people, making them more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation; and
often represent the most “at risk” group in terms of major socio-economic challenges including unemployment, low income, physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse and a wide range of health issues including HIV/AIDS “young women being most disadvantaged in these areas".
12. The international focussed attention on national youth policy formulation appears to have had a dramatic impact on the number of countries instigating action related to policy formulation and implementation. The United Nations Youth Unit claim that out of a total of 185 member states, 144 (or 78%) had formulated a National Youth Policy of a cross-sectoral character (See table 1 for actions taken by governments to implement the World Programme of Action for Youth). In 1995, only 17 out of 54 Commonwealth countries had national youth policies, today 33 Commonwealth countries have completed or are undertaking this task, and their Youth Ministers have urged all Commonwealth countries to establish effective national youth policies by the year 2000.
13. Finally, the potential benefits to a nation in undertaking the actions associated with the formulation and implementation of an intersectoral national youth policy are numerous, and can include:
communicating a nation's vision for its young women and men;
serving as a symbol of a society’s commitment to their youth citizens;
raising of the national profile of young women and men “their concerns, aspirations and contributions, and those agencies specifically committed to their deployment;
identifying priority needs of, and opportunities for young women and men;
creating a framework for common goals, collective action and cooperation/coordination of strategies and actions for youth development among various concerned bodies, including government, non government and youth organisations;
providing a basis for equitable distribution of government resources to meet youth needs;
stimulating opportunities to mainstream youth policies into other sectoral policies and programmes;
developing a basis for strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation policies and programmes that affect the youth population; and
demonstrating examples of how young women and men can engage in decision making processes of the country through their active participation in the process of formulation and implementation of youth policies.
"Possibly one of the greatest challenges facing our society is how to create the kind of environment that will allow for the mass flowering of young people. The world is changing so rapidly and in such a myriad of directions that one needs to take the long view of all contemplated social action, especially those having to do with the complexities of sensibly integrating youth into society. The latter task necessitates the development of a youth policy as the basis of immediate and distinct social action". (National Youth Policy of Guyana)