Empowering Youth | Daily News

Empowering Youth

Today, the world celebrates youth. The International Youth Day, which falls today will focus on youth empowerment and welfare. This year’s theme “Youth Building Peace” is of particular relevance to Sri Lanka, emerging from a bloody conflict that lasted more than 30 years.

International Youth Day 2017 is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace. The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is committed to fostering peaceful and inclusive societies and affirmed that “Sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security”. It is heartening to note that in Sri Lanka, the youth from both the North and the South are heavily involved in the process of reconciliation and seeking peace.

Peace is essential for the world and even more so for the world’s youth. There is growing recognition that as agents of change, young people’s inclusion in the peace and security agenda and in society more broadly, is the key to building and sustaining peace. Another Security Council Resolution reaffirms the important role youth can play in deterring and resolving conflicts, and notes that are key constituents in ensuring the success of both peacekeeping and peace building efforts. The World Programme of Action for Youth, which provides a policy framework and practical guidelines to improve the situation of young people, also encourages “promoting the active involvement of youth in maintaining peace and security”.

There are more young people in the world than ever before, creating unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. There are about 1.9 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 – the largest youth population ever. Many of them are concentrated in developing countries. In fact, in the world’s 48 least developed countries, children or adolescents make up a majority of the population. But too many of these young people see their potential hindered by conflict, extreme poverty, discrimination or lack of information. But with proper investment in their education and opportunities, these young people’s ideas, ideals and innovations could transform the future.

The UN has focused on 15 priority areas for youth empowerment, including Employment, Education, Poverty, Health, Environment, Girls and young women, Globalization, Information and communication technologies, Youth and conflict and Intergenerational relations.

Sri Lanka has an enviable record on empowering youth. The two youth rebellions of 1971 and 1988-89, though rather unfortunate, prompted the authorities to address the genuine grievances of the youth in earnest. The lack of educational and employment opportunities for youth led to widespread frustration among them, which was used by certain political elements to achieve their sinister aims.

One of the first tasks handled by a young Ranil Wickremesinghe as Minister of Youth Affairs in the J.R. Jayewardene Government was spearheading the formation of the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) initially headed by the equally young and dynamic Charitha Ratwatte. All subsequent governments helped the NYSC to expand its range of youth-oriented activities.

Ever since the dark events of 1971, Governments have grappled with the problem of providing more educational and vocational opportunities for youth. A large number of youth are denied higher educational opportunities after O/L and A/L examinations, since the Government’s higher educational institutions can accommodate only a limited number of students. The rest of the youth must be provided with alternative avenues for education or employment. This is a major challenge that must be resolved without delay. This also brings to the fore the need for more private higher educational institutions that can accommodate some of these students.

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the region where girls are not discriminated against in education and other matters. Thanks to free education and free health care, girls in Sri Lanka fare much better than their counterparts in other developing countries. Sri Lanka also has a very low maternal mortality rate, a problem that affects most developing countries. The country also had to rehabilitate thousands of child soldiers, both boys and girls, who were deprived of education and parental care.

However, Sri Lanka needs to do more to empower youth socially and politically. We are pleased that the Government has brought in regulations to ensure that all political parties have to field a given quota of young persons aged below 35 at the forthcoming Local Government and Provincial Council elections, with an emphasis on fielding more women candidates. We need more young professionals, male and female, to ensure a cleaner political slate.

It may sound like a cliché, but youth are our future. It is estimated that the youth population in Sri Lanka is about 4.4 million or 22% of the total population (2011). The youth population by sex indicates that there is an almost equal distribution of 50.23% for males and 49.76% for females. A National Youth Policy has been formulated taking into account all aspects of youth empowerment. The youth must be given every chance to rise and shine and become useful citizens. The country as a whole will prosper when the youth realize their ambitions and aspirations. 


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