Youths around the world face a myriad of problems in creating and utilising opportunities for representation to decision making bodies. The case is even worse when it comes to the representation of disabled youths, which is a major cause for concern. Decisions that affect youths directly and indirectly are been taken in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and parliaments of countries, like that of Cameroon, in the absence of youth.
The question of who is a youth has been viewed from various angles. It is true that a youth is one who is in the transition phase from childhood to adulthood. The age of youth transition varies from country to county. The United Nations considers a youth to be from the age of 15-24 years, while that of the Commonwealth of Nations is from 15-29 years. For the sake of this article, we will consider that of the African Youth Charter in which a youth is considered to be between the age of 15-35 years.
Youths around the world face a myriad of problems. The case is even worse when it comes to the representation of disabled youths, which is a major cause for concern. Decisions that affect youths directly and indirectly are been taken in the United Nations General Assembly and parliaments of countries, like that of Cameroon, in the absence of youths.
The preamble of the African Youth Charter recognizes the fact that Africa’s greatest resource is its youthful population. The emergence of the idea of participative governance structures recognizes and advocates for the inclusion of young people as democratic agents. The principal argument is that despite significant knowledge of youth representation, they are still marginalized.
Thus, it is the objective of this paper to examine. Why should youths be represented in formal bodies, why they have been left out, the consequences and solutions due to the lack of youth representation in formal bodies?
Why should youths be represented in formal bodies?
Koffi Annan, the Former United Nations Secretary General once said:
“Normally, when we need to know about something, we go to experts, but we tend to forget that when we want to know about youths and what they feel and what they want, that we should talk to them”
– Kofi Annan
This can be effectively done through their representatives in formal bodies. Youths have a better perspective of the problems that affect them as such they need to be integrated in policy planning, implementation and evaluation for the policy to be a success. Youth representation enables youths to become active members of the democratic society.
Why are youth not represented in formal institutions?
One of the reasons why youths are marginalized in African societies is linked to their marital status. In Africa, if a youth is not married, he is still considered a child. Youth have been considered to be irresponsible partly because they are not married. The lifestyle that youths leave in the face of economic constraints has made leaders lose confidence in their ability to participate effectively in any decision making process. Furthermore, youths in Africa have not been able to effectively advocate for their inclusion in formal bodies. They consider travelling abroad as an exit strategy. This is guided by the fact that they think nothing good can come out of this continent and would rather wait for the continent to rot before they start picking up the carcass. The ineffectiveness of youth advocacy on one hand is as a result of their cavalier attitude towards their respective countries. On the other hand, they lack knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as well as techniques on how to advocate for change.
There is a fundamental disconnection between policies linked to youth inclusion and their implementation in most African societies. A case in the direction of a concrete policy is enshrined in the African Youth Charter. This is because African leaders have not recognized the value of youths and the contribution they can make as democratic agents. Consequently, the creation and strengthening of platforms for youth inclusion in formal bodies is weak. It does not effectively empower the vast majority so as to ensure their representation in formal bodies. Moreover, the perception is that the issue of programme development and policy design is for experts and youths do not have the expertise, skills and the drive power still prevails.
In Cameroon as in many parts of Sub Saharan Africa, the misunderstanding and practical applications of politics and governance have played negatively to the full participation of youths. The environment for youths to act in peace and with freedom is often well presented, but its practicality is misunderstood by “angry power holders” who never intend to leave office. When people say “the future of tomorrow depends on youth”, it’s a provoking statement in many developing countries. This statement is used primarily for political gains druing campaigns at schools and student residential areas.
At Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon), a youth development organization in Cameroon, calling for effective youth participation in all sectors of the society through advocacy by youths for youths remains essential. Our newly adopted National Youth Empowerment Program builds on experiences from Ghana and South Africa to engage youths to start up low cost initiatives. These actions will attract power holders to youths for effective leadership. Advocacy and proactive programmes and projects are mainstreamed in all our activities to reduce the negative incidences of poor youth representation in formal bodies in Cameroon and Africa in general.
Consequence of the lack of youths in formal bodies
Youths have not been directly concerned with policies developed by hierarchies. As a result, their needs have not been well defined. Youth exclusion can create significant tensions in society. An example of this can be traced to the Contract Première Embouche (CPE) (First Employment Contract) in 2006 in France. Employers could hire youths under the age of 26 on short-term employment contracts. However, this policy sparked nation-wide youth protest and strikes beacause the policy was poorly designed due to inadequate consultation with youth beneficiaries. In addition, skills and experience from the aged and adults have not been effectively transferred to youths. Thus for youths to gain better furtue experiences, they need to be represented in formal bodies.
- Governments should guarantee youth representation in formal bodies through policy prescriptions.
- Youths should be part of delegations to ordinary sessions. There is the need for the government, in partnership with non-governmental organizations, to educate youths on their rights and responsibilities as well as techniques of advocacy.
- Governments should adhere to international conventions or legal instruments that lay down a framework for the representation of youths in formal bodies.
- Youths should become more proactive that passive members of their communities.
Youth inclusion in formal institutions is an integral part of the democratic process. The voices of youths also need to be heard in strategic institutions. The participation of youths in policy design and implementation will improve the success of policies and will instil a sense of ownership and belonging in youths.
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