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World Conference Calls For ‘Youth Office’ at U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 6 2014 (IPS) - As the United Nations reinforces the important role of youth in its proposed post-2015 development agenda, the World Conference on Youth (WCY) held in Sri Lanka last month adopted a historic declaration, including a proposal for the creation of a separate Youth Department/Office in the world body.

The Colombo Declaration on Youth is now recognised as an important milestone in the efforts to mainstream youth concerns and aspirations, as well as youth engagement in global and national decision making processes.

The declaration, which has been formally presented to the U.N. secretary-general, the president of the U.N. General Assembly and the president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), has been received with much praise and enthusiasm.

The Declaration makes several important practical recommendations, such as the setting up of a permanent Youth Department/Office within the U.N. and also calls on the world body to dedicate a day to skills development, a critical symbolic measure to enhance the employability of youth.

The recommendations that emerged, and which were reflected in the Declaration include: inclusive youth led-development, poverty eradication, food and nutrition security, equal access to quality education, promotion of healthy lives, access to quality healthcare, full employment, entrepreneurship opportunities, gender equality, environmental sustainability, youth-centered urbanisation, peace, reconciliation and ending violence, good governance and accountability, inclusive youth participation in decision making and ending systemic inequalities.

Many of these recommendations could seamlessly feed into the U.N. Open Working Group deliberations, which will formulate the post-2015 development agenda.

The conference attracted 32 ministers and deputy ministers of youth affairs and senior policy makers from around the world, high-level officials from the U.N. system (including the president of the 68th U.N. General Assembly, Dr. John Ashe, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi), diplomats from a range of countries, 118 representatives from national youth organisations, civil society, the private sector and the academia. In total, 163 countries were represented at the conference.

As the discussions progressed, it was evident that the assembled youth were willing to temper their idealism with realistic pragmatism, thus contributing to a document that may stand the test of time.

Since the first WCY held in 1936, this was the first time that the world’s policy makers and youth teamed up to produce a common declaration. It is understood that the Declaration will be given effect consistent with national laws, policies, customs and religious principles.

While officially opening the conference in a magnificent facility in the southern port city of Hambantota, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, “Engaging youth and consulting with them results in better policy formulation and implementation, including evaluation that helps fill policy gaps.

“Young people are not simply the recipients of services but are active stakeholders in shaping the future of their communities. We, as leaders, must, therefore, be committed to providing avenues for the young people to play their rightful roles in crafting the future.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a special message to the WCY, said, “This is a critical time. We are working closely with Member States, civil society, academia, the private sector, the media and people like you – the next generation of global leaders – to develop a blueprint for people and the planet, for the future we want.

It is vital that we draw from the energy and initiative of young people. You can bring fresh perspectives to advance peace, development and human rights around the world.”

In an inspiring, unrehearsed statement, Ashe encouraged the youth of the world to get involved in processes that are affecting them now and will affect them in the future.

In the run-up to the conference, Sri Lanka’s youth affairs and skills development ministry established an International Youth Task Force (IYTF) to advise the Sri Lankan government on all aspects of preparations for the WCY.

Comprised of 10 young leaders from around the world representing established global youth organisations, as well as 10 Sri Lankan youth leaders, including members of the Youth Parliament, the IYTF made key recommendations on the structure and content of the conference.

Months of consultations preceded the formulation of the draft Declaration, particularly at the U.N. headquarters in New York and other regional centres, with the effective participation of youth leaders, civil society and diplomats.

Instead of deliberating separately, as is often the case, young people and policy makers at WCY2014 engaged in collective exploration of the conference’s themes, which served to strengthen the joint outcome.

Participants demonstrated much goodwill, seeking compromises even on issues where the goals of different interest groups seemed to clash.

The Colombo Declaration on Youth is now recognised as an important milestone in the efforts to mainstream youth concerns and aspirations and youth engagement in global and national decision making processes.

*Ambassador Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations

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