POLICY & PRACTICE: Soapbox - The global voice of youth should betaken on board

| 29 January 2003

Ask a young person anywhere in the world what their concerns are, and the chance to learn useful skills and earn an income of their own will almost certainly be on the list. But are we listening? Policymakers often ignore what young people have to say.

It is not surprising young people are worried. Half the world's three billion people who live on less than $2 a day are under the age of 24. In many countries, youth unemployment rates are much higher than average.

And with an increasingly youthful population in many parts of the developing world, and a growing number of youth-led households - in some cases because HIV/Aids has claimed the lives of family members - this problem is not going to go away.

Y Care International, the overseas development agency of the YMCA movement, argues that young people must have appropriate training opportunities and the chance to earn their own living if they are to make the transition from childhood to independent adulthood.

As part of our Target campaign, young people from several countries can get their message heard through a video about skills development, which is currently being produced.

Young people must be given a voice that is listened to and acted upon.

They cannot be excluded when decisions are taken that affect them. Yet too many still feel their concerns are ignored.

When young people come together and speak out, what emerge as priorities are training, employment and education. A five-day event, the youth employment summit, held last September in Alexandria, Egypt, was dedicated to these issues. The event brought together hundreds of young people from across the world. It marked the start of a decade of action aimed at creating sustainable livelihoods for 500 million young people by 2012.

I was struck by how much was shared by the young from different countries: their common goals far outnumbered their differences. Equally, I was impressed by the determination of young delegates to secure meaningful work in the future. It is not a handout that they want or need, but opportunities to help achieve their goals.

We now need a concerted effort across all sectors so that young people's potential can be realised. Otherwise, we are letting future generations down. And too many young people have already been let down for far too long.

Sarah Leonard, campaigns and development education co-ordinator, Y Care International

Got something to get off your chest? If you work with young people or are a young person with something to say about public policy and services, email stovin.hayter@haynet.com or call 020 8267 4767.

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