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 some 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 other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) etc.
It is therefore empowering that President Dr Irfaan Ali used the day to launch the Presidential Youth Advisory Council. At the launching, Ali gave the commitment that this direction would see young people actively participating in every level of the decision-making and implementation process across all sectors in the country.
To quote him, this group of young professionals has formed the Advisory Council, since: “They are here because I believe strongly that we need our young people to be critically integrated into policy-making and into the policy implementation of our country; so they can have a thorough understanding, an in-depth understanding, as to how policies are determined, why they are determined; and they can contribute in the finalisation of the policies and programmes that will take our country forward.”
This commitment means that youths will be involved at all levels of decision- making.
However, while Government is moving in the right direction to include the young professionals, 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.
We therefore commend and support President Dr Irfaan Ali on the formation of the Youth Advisory Council.