Magazine article UN Chronicle

Harnessing the Energies of Youth

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Harnessing the Energies of Youth

Article excerpt

Any discussion of children and youth now must inevitably relate to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which provide the road map for human development. The recent United Nations Special Session on Children exposed failures of Governments in creating an enabling environment for youth within the Millennium Goals. Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the crucial importance of recognizing the rights of youth for any development agenda to work. As they conceded, children's greatest needs and aspirations point to a world that facilitates a rich human development based on "principles and democracy, equality, non-discrimination, peace, social justice and the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights, including the right to development. Children and adolescents are resourceful citizens capable of building a better future for all" [A World Fit for Children]. The Special Session sounded a wake-up call to address the continuing neglect of children and youth i n an uncaring world.

For a long time, the general public has viewed youth as a category wasteful of opportunity through frustration and lawlessness. The negative images of youth, who now form close to a half of the world's population, exclude and ignore the great potential in them which needs only to be given opportunity, cultivation and guidance.

The goal of a productive world of peace is often marred by selfish individuals in positions of influence, who have no tangible commitment or concern for the enrichment of the human condition of youth in order to launch them into meaningful adulthood. The quality of our young will depend on the bequest they receive; this forms a basic challenge of the twenty-first century. The identified and recognized needs of youth will constitute the agenda of the United Nations to be translated into action through its various agencies. Children need to be listened to for their proper participation in charting out their future as important partners in the custodianship of the world. Productivity in every nation originates from children and youth properly grounded in the cultural, social and economic virtues and aspirations of the nation, which must exclude the dehumanizing and traumatic abduction into training as child soldiers in conflict situations or into forced child labour and prostitution.

In preparation for the Special Session, held from 8 to 10 May 2002, the youth in Malawi convened a "Children's Parliament" on 16 and 17 August, with the theme "A Malawi Fit for Children".

Areas of great concern defined by the children, whose recommendations the main Parliament adopted in toto, included education, HIV/AIDS, child participation in decision-making, poverty and the problem of orphans. The enormous challenge for lawmakers in Malawi was the realization of the children's desire and ability to eloquently articulate concerns affecting them, which called for relevance in policy formulation. Malawian children's concerns are repeated everywhere in the world, with the problem of violence against children on the list.

According to the Malawi National Youth Policy, factors contributing to the vulnerability of youth include inadequate educational and training facilities, exacerbated by social and cultural practices, early pregnancies and marriages, sexual harassment, violence and exploitation, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol abuse, marginalization and non-involvement in decision-making, homelessness, unemployment and lack of sporting and proper entertainment facilities. These areas of preoccupation dovetail with the interests related to the UN mission.

However, for the UN to help harness the energies and potential of youth, Member States need to demonstrate the political and general will to assist them. Malawi President Bakili Muluzi, in a "State of the Nation" address on 31 May, called upon "all people in the country to work on giving our boys and girls equal opportunities to participate in the development of this country. …

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