Uganda: Young People
How can we ever dream of pushing half of our population to the sidelines?"
This question was posed by Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Kampala, Uganda, on 20 November 2007.
Mr McKinnon called for young people to be "continuously" involved in areas such as "health, education business, the environment and politics," where their "concerns and considerations" should be fairly represented.
"Every Government decision and activity can and should have a youth dimension, a youth policy, and a youth budget," he said.
There are currently 70 million children in the Commonwealth who have never been to school. Every year, 4.5 million children from the Commonwealth's 53 member states die before their fifth birthday.
In his speech Mr McKinnon highlighted challenges confronting young people who are healthy and schooled: "those of sexual health, of making a living, and of taking an active part in a society that embraces them whatever their fortune, their colour or their creed."
The Commonwealth Youth Programmes, which are run from four regional centres in Guyana, India, Solomon Islands and Zambia, focus on a wide age group of young people - 15 to 29, who face these challenges.
This age span is a strong indicator of why 'Youth
affairs' is "utterly 'mainstream'" and should not be sidelined, argued Mr McKinnon.
Ten years on from the first Commonwealth Youth Forum, held in Edinburgh, Mr McKinnon looked back at the "highs and lows of previous meetings." He recalled the meeting in Malta in 2005, where participants "made a massive difference by feeding directly into the new Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment for the period 2007 to 2015."
The Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative, which provides loans, training education and business support for unemployed young men and women, is part of the Plan of Action, which those present in Malta contributed towards. This initiative was piloted in the four regional centres, and has since been replicated in a further 12 countries. In India alone, nearly 1,000 people gained functional literacy through the project and 9,000 have been exposed to health awareness camps and exhibitions.
Despite these efforts, Mr McKinnon told Heads of Government that "we need to do a whole lot better for Commonwealth youth, and that they need to show leadership and commitment."
Children and Youth
International Organizations and Africa
Mr McKinnon used the speech to outline six priorities which he wants Heads to sign up to. He said that "we should press for young people to be more involved in the processes of democracy [and] fully staffed, resources Youth Ministries within governments." He then called for Government Ministries to allocate budgets for the "youth elements of their work."
The Secretary-General also said that young people should be more involved in "building respect and understanding between peoples;" that they should have a greater role in "defusing conflict" and finally that more financial support should be given to the Commonwealth Youth Programme.
The Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding launched 'Civil Paths to Peace' earlier this month, which is the result of a mandate from Commonwealth leaders to look into the causes of conflict, violence and extremism in Commonwealth countries. The report, which will be presented to Heads of Government at their meeting later this week, recommends greater support to young people, who represent over half of the Commonwealth's 2 billion citizens.