Youth’s Participation For Development : Jhabindra Bhandari

The aspiration of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda is to create a just, prosperous and responsive world where all people, regardless of their age, realise their rights and live with dignity and hope. In this context, this year’s International Youth Day had an interesting theme in youth civic engagement. This important day particularly highlighted the emerging needs of meaningful engagement and participation of the youth for sustainable human development.

Undoubtedly, sustainable development is less likely to be achieved without active participation and meaningful engagement of youths in both politics and public life. This is because youths have enormous capacity and the willingness to empower communities in most societies. Therefore, enhancing the participation of youths in development should be a high priority agenda as the existing opportunities for youths in all aspects of social, political and economic life are still constrained in most of the developing countries.

Role of youths

Over the years, there have been consistent debates on the emerging role of youths in development. This is because the challenges and opportunities in terms of their engagement are diverse in many societies. In this scenario, policymakers and planners need to realistically think of innovative ways to raise public awareness on both the relevance and significance of youth civic engagement and its potential benefits to the society at large.

According to a recent report of State of World’s Population 2014, our world is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, and the youth population is growing fastest in the poorest nations. Within this generation are 600 million adolescent girls with specific needs, challenges and aspirations for the future.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that many of the countries with the largest portions of youth today are among the poorest in the world. However, they are also on the cusp of the demographic transition that can yield a demographic dividend. As we all know, transition begins as fertility and mortality rates start to fall, leaving fewer dependents. Thus, the dividend comes as resources are freed for economic development, and for greater per capita spending on higher quality health and education services.

In our context, the population in the age group (16-40) is considered as the youth. According to the 2011 census, the youth population is 40.3% of the total population. Of this, 45.8% are males and 54.5% are females. The national youth policy 2010 has clearly envisioned the youth as a powerful change agent for development. No doubt that youths are significantly contributing to a range of social and political movements in the country. 

As the youths are increasingly considered as important human resources, it is essential to enhance their capacity for meaningful participation in development. In the changing context, one of the objectives of the youth policy is to enhance the leadership of youths by offering numerous opportunities to engage in policy formulation, decision making and implementation levels of all relevant development initiatives and social movements.  

The policy aims to address several issues of livelihoods, education, health, employment and social security. It is clear that lack of employment has created frustration among the youths. As a result, the trend of migration to other countries for education and employment is on the rise.

Thus, international migration has increased steadily over the years, becoming an established feature of the contemporary social and economic landscape for many youths. Young migrants constitute a relatively large proportion of the overall migrant population and have a significant impact on the origin, transit and destination countries and communities. Though migration has significantly contributed to the household economy, its overall social impacts on individuals, families and communities are potentially large.

In addition, there needs to be adequate investments in health, including sexual and reproductive health, for adolescents and the youth. Globally, more than 2 million 10 to 19-year-olds are living with HIV: about one in seven of all new HIV infections occur during adolescence. Considering the vulnerabilities, youths who are poor, socially disadvantaged and living with HIV/AIDS need easy access to information, education, employment and health care services in order to ensure a dignified life in the family and community.

n the recent years, the widespread use of information and communication technology (ICT) has affected the lives of young people. Due to effects of globalisation, youths are motivated to use new technologies of information such as the social media. Undoubtedly, this has significantly influenced their socialisation and culture in several ways.

Despite youth friendly policies, it is a ground reality that youths as a whole still confront many challenges while safely transitioning into adulthood and the workforce. As a matter of fact, tens of millions do not go to school. In addition, employment opportunities for the vast majority of youths are limited. Globally, many youths still experience extreme poverty in their lifetimes. Given the disparities that persist in all societies, there are emerging needs to reach those populations that are poor and marginalised on multiple fronts, such as age, gender and ethnicity.

Regardless of age, gender and ethnicity, it is our shared responsibility to uphold the rights of youths and empower them with quality education and employment opportunities. Some proven interventions such as stopping child marriage and preventing adolescent pregnancies, bolstering sexual and reproductive health rights, preventing gender-based violence, promoting gender parity in education and improving employment opportunities would be instrumental in shaping the bright future of youths for sustainable development. 

Pragmatic strategy

Understanding the enormous capacity and potential contribution of youths towards sustainable development, the government, donors, private sector and civil society organisations need to formulate a pragmatic strategy to create an enabling environment for their engagement in planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of development programmes. Moreover, effective implementation of the youth policy is important to ensure that youths are at the centre of sustainable development.

 (The writer is a PhD research fellow in public health at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)

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