By Nicole Graham, Humanitas Global
The role of the youth is changing rapidly. More so now than ever before, children and teens are seen as change-makers who can positively contribute to improving their environments. The United Nations declared 2011 the International Year of Youth with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sharing, “youth deserve our full commitment – full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services and full participation in public life.” With the announcement of the post-2015 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specifically call upon youths to aid in implementation and success. Creation of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth platform has brought together over 5,000 organizations and individuals under the age of thirty to express their voice, contribute actively to the SDGs, and share ideas.
Unfortunately, barriers prohibit youth from participating at multiple levels. Positions of influence are more likely to be employed by adults, resulting in a vicious cycle of youth voices being shut out and participation stymied. Generally, young people are less likely to have experience and knowledge deemed necessary to contribute, and this social marginalization leads to a breakdown in communication between youths and adults. As is seen with adultism, bias is shown towards adults and youths are resultantly discriminated against and excluded.
In 1997, sociologist Roger Hart created the Ladder of Youth Participation, a tool which depicts the degrees of youth participation with an eight-rung ladder. Each rung represents a progression from non-participant youths commonly a result of adultism, to youths that are engaged and considered equal to adults:
- Assigned but informed
- Consulted and informed
- Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people
- Young people-initiated and directed
In some parts of the world, achieving youth participation is more difficult than ever before. Gangs in Central America and Mexico have grown in power and consistently plague the population, feeding on a youth bulge and the lack of economic opportunities young people have at their disposal. In any country with a youth bulge, such a demographic skew presents dramatic impacts for economic development. If youths struggle to find a job, they are more likely to form a mass of frustration and feed political instability. This can be seen on display in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Europe and Central Asia, where youth unemployment rates are generally 20 percent or higher and job satisfaction and job quality are extremely low.
Africa’s youth population has been increasing faster than any other region, equating to roughly 20 percent of the population. This could as act as a liability to development goals throughout the continent, with a large portion of the population acting on feelings of disaffectedness due to unemployment and lack of economic mobility. Or, with proper engagement, this youth bulge could choose to lead the way in social progress, innovation, and inclusive governance such as was seen with youth involvement in the Arab Spring.
Unlike the mindset of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are embracing youth as the ideal population to drive forward the post-2015 agenda. This International Youth Day, the UN is calling upon this community to focus its efforts towards the goals of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production. This generation of youths is serving in leadership capacities more than ever before, gravitating up the Ladder of Youth Participation, from manipulation to youth and adult equity. At President Obama’s most recent Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) town hall, he announced a new partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to begin an internship program called “Africa’s Promise”. With 60 percent of Africa’s population below the age of 35, the outgoing president and the MCC hope to have interns supporting large-scale development programs, directly managing, facilitating and contributing to projects involved with WASH, electricity, land rights and education.
Young people will contribute directly to the global goals as critical innovators, creators and communicators. This year’s International Youth Day celebrates this distinction, advocating for youths to claim their voices and participatory roles to partner with their governments towards a better world, instead of fighting against them.