Dec. 9th 2011, House of Lords
by Monika Mareková
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be here today to speak about the human rights of young people. I am much pleasured that youth rights earned attention at this conference, because unfortunately they are very often omitted in talks about the rights of various vulnerable groups. In my presentation I would like to outline how can we make dignity a reality for youth.
First of all, I would like to bring up why we should devote more attention to youth and youth rights. Youth is doubtless one of the vulnerable groups of society. Many issues concern them specifically such as education, youth unemployment, housing, participation or social change. Young people face distinctive obstacles and very often cannot fully enjoy their human rights. They are the ones who struggle to find decent jobs and are very often exploited at the labour market. They have problems to afford higher education of a good quality. They are very often denied access to political participation and they are usually excluded from the decision making process on the issues that concern them. All these problems do not earn much of attention of governments and general public and resort to be unsolved. Consequently, dignity is very often not a reality for youth.
We must not forget though that when youth are denied access to full enjoyment of their rights, the development of the whole society is endangered. The ways in which young people are able to address their aspirations and challenges and fulfil their potential will influence current social and economic conditions and the well-being and livelihood of future generations.1 Nearly half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Youth is the future of this world and they are recognized as both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation.2
The youth rights are also not sufficiently recognized by the international community. For example, world leaders agreed on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and others which specifically deal with certain vulnerable groups as children, women, indigenous people and serve for the protection of their specific needs and rights. However, there does not exist any international convention or declaration which would specifically protect the human rights of youth. We might agree that part of the youth rights is disseminated in other international conventions, but at the same time we should realise that addressing the youth rights in one document would improve their protection and would help in making dignity reality for youth. The right to decent education, the right to a sustainable job, the right to have a roof over one’s head, the right to have access to decent health care, the right to credit – all of them should be guaranteed to young people and they should not be worried about their future.
Young people are also the ones who are strongly impacted by the financial and economic crisis. When governments start to restrict their budgets, the first things that they start to save their money on are scholarships, low-interest loan programmes for students, research at the universities or funding of the leisure time activities for youth. These are the areas where they feel to save their money most easily, however they do not realize that they deny rights and development of the next generation. The impact of these restrictions is not visible now, but will emerge in 10 or 20 years. Further, the direct impact of the economic crisis is higher rate of unemployment. The ones that are affected the most are again young people. They are particularly vulnerable in the labour market in times of crisis.3 In the lack of job vacancies it is very hard for fresh graduates to find their jobs. Without sufficient experiences they are condemned to unpaid internships or to insufficiently paid jobs which resorts in still growing rate of working poverty and in losing their dignity.
Social impact of the economic crisis on the youth was also the topic of this year’s Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Policies and Programmes Involving Youth.” As the Slovak UN youth delegate for the 66th UN General Assembly, I negotiated this resolution on behalf of Slovakia. This Resolution tries to make dignity a reality for youth. To name few examples, it calls upon Member States to continue its implementation of the World Action Programme for Youth;4 it urges Member States to promote full and effective participation of young people;5 it recognizes that promoting full employment, decent work and entrepreneurship requires investing in education, training and skills development for young women and men;6 it urges Member States to address challenges facing by girls and young women;7 it urges Member States to improve quality of education and promote universal access to education; it urges Member States to combat all forms of discrimination against young people and it includes many other commitments of the international community to improve the rights of youth. Now it is upon the Member States to act and to fulfil these commitments.
The Resolution earned particular interest in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly thanks to the UN youth delegates – young people who were part of their national delegations and participated in its negotiations. The Resolution itself encourages Member States to consider including youth representatives in their delegations at all relevant discussions in the General Assembly and establishing a national youth delegate programme. Why is this important? Because this is the way how to promote the right to participation of youth. Inclusion of young people to the decision making process on policies and programmes that involve them, enables later their effective fulfilment. It also strengthens the discussion between young people and their governments and young people and international community.
How far have we progressed in promoting the right to participation at the highest international level? This year only 20 countries out of 193 Member States of the United Nations included youth delegates in their delegations to the United Nations General Assembly. Moreover the number of countries that have established a stable national youth delegate programme with the suitable mandate to represent young people is even smaller. The representation of youth in the decision making process at the international level is insufficient.
Ladies and gentlemen,
in conclusion I would like to sum up how can we make dignity a reality for youth. Youth’s voices have to be let heard. Young people have to be able to participate and to express their opinions. This is the cornerstone. And above that, we have to ensure that right to education, right to decent job, right not to be discriminated and many others are fulfilled. This can be easier done through rising public and government awareness on youth-related issues. Everybody should be aware that youth rights are the rights of future generations which will influence the shape of this world in next decades. I am convinced that the fulfilment of these rights will make dignity a reality for them.