HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON YOUTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS
22 September 2016
The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting held a panel discussion on youth and human rights in order to identify challenges, best practices and lessons learned in the exercise of human rights by young people, as well as relevant opportunities for the empowerment of youth in the exercise of their rights.
In her opening statement, KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her opening statement that today’s demographic realities, and the pace of global change, for better and for worse, combined to make of young people the generation of our time. Today, there were 1.8 billion young people worldwide, the most the world had ever seen, and this meant that there was no sustainable development without them and no sustained development if not for them. Today, young people were three times more likely to be unemployed and when they did find work, they laboured in far more precarious conditions than adults, in absence of equal pay for equal work. Some 27 million young people were migrants: far from their homes, travelling sometimes unaccompanied, often precariously, in flight from a life they believed they could not sustain.
Young people under 30 constituted 43 per cent of all homicide victims. Sexual violence disproportionately affected young girls and women, and complications in pregnancy and childbirth were the second leading killers of adolescent girls in developing countries, despite being largely preventable. On the global scale, this meant that relative poverty and lack of opportunity was young, young, young. The median age of Niger was 15; South Sudan 17; of Yemen and Nigeria, 18. The demography of relative privilege was so much older and ageing – the median age of Denmark was 41, Austria 44, and Germany 46. The world cried for better and more inclusive engagement with the largest generation of potential – for energy, creativity, passion and talent – to which the world had ever had access, and yet, around the world, only 1.65 per cent of parliamentarians were in their 20s. In fact, the average age of parliamentarians globally was 53. This most interconnected, most educated, healthiest generation was also the generation at gravest risk of being left far, far behind. As the economic and social histories of countries that leaped-frogged the development curve post World War Two proved, investing in young people and reaping demographic dividend of young populations was of benefit to all.
The needs of the world’s adolescents and young people were significant: for schooling and higher education, life skills and vocation training, meaningful employment, safe homes, protection from violence, exploitation and exclusion, and for evolving personal autonomy in decision-making about their own sexual and reproductive health. Underpinning those needs and central to the assignment of responsibility for the meeting of their needs and their rights: violations of their rights were the gravest threats to young peoples’ and adolescents’ wellbeing; denial of their rights further exacerbated vulnerability and entrenched inequality; and violation and denial of their rights derailed other rights. States must institutionalize robust civic registration, including of births, marriages and causes of death as those were the building blocks of legal personhood; remove laws and tackle cultural norms that impeded access of young people to information, services and contraceptive commodities; end child marriage in law and in practice; give boys and girls unfettered access to comprehensive sexuality education; keep adolescents in school or keep them in education; and build opportunities for them to keep learning and to bridge them back into learning. A child’s safe passage from birth to adulthood was not the child’s responsibility, it was ours. Sharing economic, social and political space, assets and opportunities with this generation was essential, as was building stable platforms for ongoing intergenerational dialogue, which must be made an urgent priority.
Speaking in a video message, Ahmad Alhendawi, Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, emphasized that the adoption of the resolution on youth and human rights provided an opportunity to bring youth issues to the Human Rights Council in a systematic and meaningful way. Together the international community could widen the democratic space by strengthening youth participation and promoting their rights.
Anna Korka, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Panel Moderator, said that the objective of the panel discussion was to identify challenges and best practices in the exercise of human rights for young people. Today’s youth made up the largest young generation the world had ever known. Young people should not, and could not, be left behind.
Virginia Bras Gomes, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stressed that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had strong cross-cutting anti-discrimination provisions and contained explicit and implicit provisions for young people. The implicit Covenant provisions dealt with technical and vocational training, and social services to support families. The panel ought to identify challenges to the exercise of human rights by young people.
Johanna Nyman, President of the European Youth Forum, urged the Council to call for the preparation of a report that would map the obstacles that young people faced in accessing their rights, and to develop guidelines directing States in implementing a rights-based approach to youth policies. She also suggested the establishment of a Special Procedure on the human rights of young people.
Simon-Pierre Escudero, Representative of the Asociación de Tierra de Jóvenes from El Salvador, said that adolescents living and working in the streets in El Salvador could be taken advantage of by adults due to their ignorance and their inability to defend themselves. There was a lack of coordination among institutions in helping youth; efforts were often insufficient or duplicated. Access of young people to services needed to be facilitated and improved.
Maria D’Onofrio, Representative of VIDES International, stated that young people were frequently seen as the cause of tensions, even on the global scale. But the impulse to change the status quo was the truest meaning of being young. To ensure that youth rights issues remained on the agenda of the Human Rights Council, a report should be requested by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee.
Yvonne Matuturu, Head of the Social and Human Sciences Section at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Multisectoral Regional Office for Central Africa in Cameroon, said that in Africa young people made up to 50 per cent of the population. The challenges facing young people were multifarious and unemployment was a destabilizing factor. It was time to step up investment in policies and programmes so that young people could be positive innovators. There should be studies with disaggregated data on the challenges facing young people.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that today’s generation of young people was the largest in history, and brought attention to the common challenges that affected youth worldwide, including the disproportionately high rates of youth unemployment, insufficient vocational education and on-the-job training, and the importance of the involvement of youth in the realization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. It was noted that, in many countries, youth were much more exposed to poverty than other groups.