While many people here would argue pretty much every day is youth day – it’s summertime and the livin’ is easy for the typical kid still enjoying a break from school – that’s not necessarily the case for young people globally.
International Youth Day, marked on August 12, is a United Nations creation that recognizes young people are a key ingredient in building and sustaining peace on our often-woebegone planet.
Beyond the platitudes of “kids are our future” (that’s simply a reality, as people grow older and die, generally leaving those younger behind, in turn followed by the next generation, and so on), International Youth Day recognizes that breaking the cycle of war and conflict involves nipping in the bud the underlying issues inherited by young people, including inequality and prejudices.
It was launched following the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth held in Lisbon Aug. 8-12, 1998. The concept recognizes that the current generation of youth are the largest in history (of 7 billion on the planet, about 1.8 billion are between the ages of 14 and 24) and young people often represent the largest demographic in developing countries where war and unrest are most common. The resultant UN resolution (54/120) sees the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace and security as an imperative.
Young people’s inclusion in the peace and security agenda and in society more broadly, is key to building and sustaining peace, the UN argues. The process of social inclusion for youth, including participation in decision-making as well as access to quality education, health care and basic services is said to promote their role as active contributors to society and affords young people with opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their goals. When youth are excluded from political, economic and social spheres and processes, it can be a risk factor for violence and violent forms of conflict. Giving them a voice might help us on the road to peace.
For many young people in this country, summer is an idyllic time free from school and obligations. Globally, that’s the exception to the rule, as millions of kids never get to go to school and they have plenty of obligations. Up to 60 per cent of those 10 to 24 years of age in developing countries are classified as NEET: neither in employment, education or training. Of those kids who do get to go to school, at any one time some 50 million find their schooling interrupted by war or conflict.
Worst still than missing out on school? Finding yourself in the army. Most warfare takes place in developing countries, particularly in Africa, where some of the highest numbers of child soldiers are found. It’s estimated that 300,000 young soldiers between the ages of 10 and 24 are currently risking their lives in armed conflicts. Recruitment can be via conscription, abduction or coercion, but it is a lack of opportunities in their communities that often leads young people into lives of violence and terrorism, notes the UN.
It is for the less-than-idyllic conditions young people face on much of the planet that we have International Youth Day. Their situation is a far cry from what kids face here. And for that we here can all be thankful, while remaining mindful that our living conditions aren’t the norm.