YOUTH RIGHTS – UN AGENDA
Ryszard Komenda *
The issue of youth rights has been on the UN agenda for many years. Because young people constitute a significant part of the world population and the provision of their rights is urgent for all states.
In Central Asia alone, 1 in 3 people today are aged 15-29. Here in Uzbekistan, over 60% of the population is under the age of 35.
Looking at the global picture, with 1.8 billion people aged 15-29, are more young people in the world than ever before. That demographic reality creates unprecedented opportunities for social and economic progress. At the same time, many young people see their potential hindered by violations of their fundamental rights
Far from being mere beneficiaries of the 2030 Agenda, young people have been active architects in its development and continue to be engaged in the frameworks and processes that support its implementation, follow-up and review.
Young people and youth organizations can be invaluable catalysts to push for the SDGs and the creation of a better world through mobilization on human rights, peace and equality. We cannot afford to let this opportunity go to waste; the prosperity of our economies, our societies, and our planet depend on the youth of today and tomorrow.
Young people worldwide are three times more likely than adults to be unemployed, meaning that about 71 million young people are looking for work. When they do find work, they generally labour in far more precarious conditions than adults and often without equal pay for equal work.
In addition, some 263 million children and youth are out of school, which makes the transition to the labour market even more difficult, owing to a lack of education and skills. Many countries struggling to implement the right to education and the right to work for their young people are also anticipating substantial growth in their youth population, thereby facing a twofold challenge in the years to come.
In recent years, young people have increasingly been rising up worldwide, fighting for their rights and demanding political reforms and better opportunities, which leads to significant political changes in many countries.
Yet their rights to freedom of assembly, association, and freedom of expression are often poorly respected, and their participation in public life is frequently restricted to consultation exercises, rather than meaningful participation in decisions and processes that have profound implications for their future.
There is an urgent need for strengthened inclusion of young people in politics and public decision-making. Young people must be the protagonists in the development of policies that affect them. Nearly 1 in 2 people worldwide are under 30 years old, yet less than 2% of parliamentarians globally are under 30.
The multiple challenges that young people currently face represent an urgent call for action. Investing in young people’s rights and empowering youth can lead to more equal societies and positive social change, and young people can make a pivotal contribution to finding solutions to the many challenges ahead.
Being a young person today is an asset, not a disadvantage. Today’s youth are digital natives: they have grown up with the internet and social media and they are far more interconnected than any previous generation. And above all, they are the ones who can speak with authority on what it means to be a young person today.
Recognizing the urgency of engaging with, and involving youth, the UN and its Member States have been increasing their work with and for young people over the last few years:
- The two UN Security Council Resolutions on Youth, Peace and Security 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018) recognize the pivotal role of youth in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security;
- The UN Youth Strategy: Youth 2030, was adopted last year as the guiding document for UN activities on youth. The Strategy recognizes young people as rights-holders, with one of its five priority areas being youth and human rights;
- Member States can also play a key role in supporting implementation of the UN Youth Strategy: in this regard we welcome Uzbekistan as one of the fast-track countries for implementation.
The Lisboa+21 Declaration on youth policies and programmes, adopted at the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth earlier this year provides additional momentum to making progress on youth rights. The Declaration commits to “promote, protect and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all young people in all their intersectional diversity, ensuring a human rights-based approach to youth policies and programmes and endeavour that their planning, design, implementation, monitoring and review are human-rights based, participatory, youth-centred, youth-driven, non-partisan, inclusive, gender-responsive, comprehensive, evidence and knowledge-based, adequately resourced, transparent and accountable”.
We should move forward in this spirit, and, as mentioned in the declaration, work towards the development of comprehensive national, regional and international review mechanisms for implementation.
It is important to establish a network of youth officers in Headquarters and field presences in order work with student and youth-led movements and organizations to highlight and address the human rights challenges and violations faced by youth. In this context, we have a youth officer at our Regional Office for Central Asia in Bishkek, at our Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa in Beirut, as well as at our Regional Office for Western Africa in Dakar.
These are just a few examples of how the UN are intensifying their engagement with and for young people. But, a lot still remains to be done. We count on the support and collaboration of Member States in order to improve the situation of young people globally.
We must acknowledge the challenges and discrimination that young people face, and work together with them in order to combat them. I challenge all of us here today to not only listen to what young people and youth representatives say, to not only act on what they are saying, but to take steps to share power with young people, to ensure that youth can direct the decisions that affect their lives, and to guarantee their agency and their autonomy. This is not about special treatment or additional rights for youth; it is about ensuring young people can fully enjoy their right to participation.
Young people are not simply “the future”; they are the present. If we are to achieve sustainable development, we must reimagine the role and position of young people in our society.
* Ryszard Komenda – OHCHR Regional Representative for Central Asia (ROCA).