The United Nations General Assembly has designated August 12 as International Youth Day. Since it was first observed in 1999, the day serves as an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change, and provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the many diverse and complex challenges young people face.
According to UN estimates, there are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. But 1 in 10 of the world’s children live in conflict zones, and 24 million of them are out of school. The UN notes that political instability, labour market challenges, and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth in societies.
Here, in Guyana, there are many social ills affecting citizens, especially the younger segment of the population; and programmes and support services to help address these issues could never be enough. For example, the use of illegal drugs and alcohol, crime, suicide, domestic and other forms of violence, lack of jobs, and so on are having a huge negative impact on communities. And now, more than ever before, there is need for a genuine collaborative approach, with inclusive planning and coordination, where volunteerism is a key element, to help find practical and lasting solutions to these many ills.
While the Government must play a crucial role in designing the relevant policies and putting in place the necessary legislative framework and other support mechanisms aimed at addressing these issues, this burden must also be shared by other stakeholders; such as religious groups, the Private Sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) etc.
A case in point is that there is hardly any family in Guyana that has never been touched directly or indirectly by suicide. Experts have pointed to the fact that about 90 per cent of people who die by suicide had some sort of mental illness at the time of their death. Many people die by suicide because depression is triggered by several negative life experiences, and the suffering person does not receive effective treatment or support. Young people are crying out for attention; they need guidance, or simply someone to speak with; many want to find a way out of their misery. However, sometimes accessing that source of help is very difficult.
The role of the Private Sector should never be underestimated. There is need for funding for many crucial programmes aimed at creating better opportunities for young persons. Such programmes, once effectively implemented, would see our children and young people become well-equipped with the necessary skills to develop themselves, and in turn contribute to the overall development of the country. The Private Sector is one of the main beneficiaries of an educated and skilled workforce, and it should seek to invest in, and help to build, the pool of talent it wishes to draw from.
It is well accepted that progressive countries in the world have strong systems for engaging youth in policy formation, and in creating or altering programmes designed to support youth. One of the most effective ways to create a sense of belonging and give youth a voice is through national and local youth councils, which aim to create platforms for young people to discuss and debate relevant issues and influence policy decisions.
With opportunities afforded by new technologies, including the deployment of social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, this should lead to more interest for youth to get involved in debates and discussions, and to pose questions to their leaders on issues that are relevant to the electorate.
We encourage all stakeholders here, including the Government and Private Sector, to use International Youth Day to raise awareness of the challenges young people face, and to lobby for more support, both in terms of designing the necessary policies and allocating the resources needed that would hopefully result in better opportunities for this segment of our population.