Delegate: Ms. Laffeber
Ms. Laffeber (Netherlands): I am very happy to be given the opportunity to speak here today as a representative of the Netherlands and as a representative of the youth of my country on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year. The question is: will this anniversary be a real celebration or just another commemoration?
The themes of International Youth Year were participation, development and peace. These were also the themes that dominated the guidelines and programmes involving youth adopted at a session of the General Assembly similar to this one, in 1985. Participation, development and peace were also the themes that were supposed to be central to the situation of youth in the 10 years between these meetings. Supposed to be, because —although there is no official evaluation of the most recent years of national and international policies involving youth at our disposal — these goals have certainly not yet been fulfilled. As regards participation, this cannot be underlined more clearly than by the relatively small number of youth delegates present here. In 1985, 50 countries accredited young people to address the issue of “Youth”. This year, only about 10 countries have done so. In the other areas also, the goals of International Youth Year are far from having been achieved. [*9*]
As you know, the cold war has ended, and therefore the original incentive of putting the theme of peace so prominently on the agenda of youth policy has disappeared. But new wars are being fought, which disrupt the lives of young people in a number of countries and create ever-increasing flows of refugees. This is not only a problem for the young people themselves; it is also a problem for their societies as a whole.
For example, in refugee camps, children up to the age of 16 are generally offered some form of education. Their parents, mostly women, receive guidance in coping with their new situation and are involved in many activities. Youth, however, have hardly anything to do in these refugee camps. It is not surprising that this continued inactivity sometimes leads to situations in which they form gangs and get involved in criminal activities.
With this attitude, and without education, how can these young people be the ones who will lead their countries into a new future? Why not try to incorporate youth in education and other programmes in the camps to make them invest their energy in a positive way, involving them in the medical and other social services, or putting them in charge of the security of the camps? Creative ideas to improve the life of young refugees are missing in the draft World Programme of Action for Youth as it stands now. I do hope this idea will be put on the agenda of the ongoing discussion on youth in the coming years.
Young people are clearly underrepresented in the field of social and economic development. A great number of young people are unemployed. Youth unemployment can be seen as the main reason for the social marginalization of youth, wherever they live. They enter a vicious circle of marginalization, underemployment and delinquency, for which they are then held responsible.
This is especially true for young migrants. They are often discriminated against and resented in their new countries or new home towns. Society tends to treat them either as victims or as criminals. But they are not to blame for every crime or for the lack of jobs. It is the role of Governments to take up this issue and try to change the situation for and with youth.
The issue of environment and development was barely addressed in 1985, but it is of crucial importance to the youth of today. Governments still seem to overlook the key role young people can and should play in the field of environmental development. Young people, not only in my country but also around the world, are very concerned about the vulnerability of their environment. More than the older generations, today’s youth are taking action in the field of environment, varying from very practical acts — something as simple as cleaning up litter in public parks — to more elaborate programmes. An example of the latter is the partnership that the Commission for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Development Programme have developed with three major international non-governmental youth organizations dealing with environmental questions, to set up a large information system for youth on Agenda 21. It has also been decided to celebrate a youth day during the Commission’s session in 1996. These are exactly the kinds of projects that can and should be set up when implementing the paragraph on the environment of the draft World Programme of Action for Youth, as they create a partnership for action between established institutions and youth.
With regard to International Youth Year: Participation, Development and Peace, I think the two latter themes of the Year make sense only if the first goal has been fulfilled. In other words, is it not just as strange to have a celebration of the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year without youth as it would be to have a Women’s Conference without women?
Consider the following. Youth constitute approximately one fifth of the world’s population. Youth have first-hand information on how they want their lives to be and how their lives are. Youth want to make a positive contribution to the discussions on youth-related issues at the international level. Youth are key agents in social development and change. Participation of youth brings with it a lot of responsibilities, with which we are willing to deal but first of all, participation of young people is a right. However, Governments are the ones who can make the choice on whether they will take participation of young people seriously.
Since 1985, and even before that year, several resolutions have been adopted by this very General Assembly in which Member States are invited:
“whenever possible, to include youth representatives in their national delegations to the General Assembly and other relevant United Nations meetings” (resolution 47/85, para. 11).
This invitation found a wide response at the Women’s Conference in Beijing, where over 80 young people were included in the official delegations. Unfortunately, only a [*10*] few Member States have included youth representatives in their delegations to this General Assembly.
Youth are defined in the United Nations as women and men from 15 to 24 years of age. Youth representatives to the General Assembly are young people in national delegations, often elected through a national youth council or another non-governmental organization platform of youth, and accredited as advisers by their foreign offices. It is, of course, a very specific instrument for strengthening the participation of youth, but it is the one I have most experience with. I have participated as a member of the Netherlands delegation in the informal consultations of the Economic and Social Council, in the Third Committee, which deals with youth within its social affairs agenda, and now in this plenary session on youth. I consider this instrument to be a very important one. A good way to be acknowledged as a full participant — although I am only 19 — by 40-year-old members of other delegations in the discussions is to be able to speak at the same level as they do, as a delegate or a representative of my country.
I hope you will consider having a youth delegate in your delegation next year, when once again a substantial resolution on youth will be drafted and adopted. But instead of a resolution on youth, why not try to make it a resolution by youth?
This would certainly be an improvement compared to the situation concerning the draft World Programme of Action for Youth, which, hopefully, we will be adopting tomorrow. This has been in the drafting stage for several years, but only very few young people and youth organizations have had the chance to influence the draft Programme. The enormous negative influence this has had on the draft Programme was very obvious during the extensive informal consultations of the Economic and Social Council, earlier this month and during yesterday’s formal meeting of the Council. Here was a group of diplomats, with long experience in life, attempting to improve the text of the draft document. It was a very frustrating process for a young person. Not that these diplomats were incapable or unwilling. But young people were a very small minority in these consultations: only Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands had youth representatives present there; there were none from other regions of the world. There were not enough of us to convey the concern of youth on how youth would like to improve its own situation and on the positive contribution it can make. So basic information on these issues was also lacking.
This example indicates clearly that in the implementation of the draft Programme, it is an absolute necessity to include participation of youth at all levels and at all stages of the process. At the international level, an excellent opportunity for youth to meet, exchange ideas and provide the United Nations system, as well as young people all over the world, with direct information on programmes involving youth is the Youth Forum of the United Nations system. This Youth Forum was established in 1991 and is first of all a platform for national, regional and international youth organizations. Also, cooperation between the Forum and the United Nations organizations most involved in youth issues is very strong. The main objectives of this Forum are to strengthen youth efforts in the field of youth participation, to establish more effective and efficient channels of communication between and among youth and youth-serving organizations and agencies of the United Nations system, and to promote the implementation and monitoring of the draft World Programme of Action for Youth. The second meeting of this Forum will be held in 1996, and I hope it will prove to be a major factor contributing to the implementation of the World Programme.
I would conclude that, after a decade of international youth policy, we are still far from achieving the goals of International Youth Year: participation, development and peace. So I cannot really consider this anniversary a celebration. It should not, however, be concluded that international youth policy has failed altogether. In fact, in 1995, the new aims of youth policy, as set out in the draft World Programme of Action for Youth, are certainly worth pursuing. But they can be usefully pursued only if there is international backing and genuine support from all quarters, with no hypocrisy or hidden agendas, and with the active and full participation of young people at all levels.
Youth are not the problem: we are the solution.
UN Doc.: A/50/PV.42