Giving young people a voice

By Ritsu Nacken*, TN News

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Giving young people a voice
“I want a world with brighter colours - a world without poverty, with less of a gap between the poor and rich, and an environment that is not polluted. Everyone would have access to clean water, and young people in deprived areas would receive more investment.”
This voice of a young Vietnamese student, no more than twenty, reinforces why young people must be involved in making decisions that matter. Her ask, made as part of the global ‘A Million Voices: The World We Want’ Consultation, may be simple and idealistic, but she pinpoints exactly what’s needed to create the world we want to see – equity, inclusivity and sustainability.
Nearly four out of every ten citizens in Vietnam today is aged between 10 and 29. That’s a great deal of youthful energy, enthusiasm, and inquisitiveness. However, there are times when young people are also frustrated by the world they see around them.
It’s when we’re young that we feel most strongly - most active in fighting for our rights, about speaking out about injustice, or in questioning the status quo. Every time I speak to young people, I’m constantly struck by the insightfulness of their questions, and their sharp analysis of right and wrong.
Vietnam currently has the highest proportion of young people in its history. Never before has there been such an opportunity to harness the power of youth to help inform and shape Vietnam’s future.
However this demographic dividend also brings a heavy responsibility. We must also invest in young people’s education and training, health, and civic participation.
I was shocked to learn from a recent survey on young people’s participation in the development and implementation of health, education and employment policies and programs conducted by Center for Central Youth and Adolescent, Youth Union with support from UNFPA that less than 15 percent of young people in Vietnam have participated in public policy development. Most believe their voices go unheard and their concerns unaddressed, leaving them feeling frustrated and disenfranchised.
It is misleading, however, to conclude that young people are uninterested or don’t care. Today’s young people are better educated and volunteer more for causes than previous generations. Globally they are also a key driving force behind making companies, organizations and governments more socially and environmentally conscious.
Of course for them to participate in the lives of their communities, young people need to overcome multiple legal, social and cultural barriers and discrimination. Adolescent girls, in particular, are often burdened by child marriage, sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies and HIV, preventing their full civic engagement.
The easiest way to make sure that policies meet young people’s needs is to consult and engage. So how can we create the mechanisms that are needed?
One good example is the process of developing the first ever National Youth Report here in Vietnam, supported by the Ministry of Home Affairs and UNFPA. Young people highlighted the urgent need to access, especially for the most vulnerable, to good quality education and training, decent employment, sexual and reproductive health, comprehensive sexuality education and health care. Their practical recommendations are now being addressed in the 2015 youth development plan, Youth Law revision and many other relevant youth development policies and strategies.
This proves that if we have the will, imagination and commitment, young people can provide invaluable contributions to policy making and socio-economic development planning processes.
Of course it is necessary to equip young people with the right capacities and skills and access to information and education in order to ensure that young people can play a meaningful role in social, economic, cultural and political life. Yet only 4 or 5 out of every ten rural youth and migrants have ever been provided with information about youth-related legislation.
Nga, 26 years old,  has more than seven years experience as a Youth Coordinator. She believes that those in authority must build a true partnership with young people. “We need not only their voice, but also the inspiration and power of young people to help build a better Vietnam”.
UNFPA, together with our partners, works towards a world where every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
As our Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin has said, ”When societies embrace youth as partners, we improve our chances of finding solutions to our most pressing problems”.
Let us play our part in helping young people speak out loudly, and in making sure our leaders listen.
This may be one of the best investments in the future we ever make.
* Ritsu Nacken is Acting Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Vietnam. The opinion expressed is hers


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