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What is a National Youth Policy and why is it important?

Written by Tricia Teekah and edited by Francis Bailey

I am not a youth policy expert but here is my attempt to the questions asked above.

Since the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for youth in 1998, and the adoption of the Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes, many countries that did not have a youth policy recognized its intrinsic value and have moved to draft and implement their own policies. Some countries like Jamaica, Barbados and others in Europe are currently at the revision stage to keep their policies relevant, to reflect the needs and challenges of young people. Of course, several countries had youth policies prior to 1998, including Guyana, but 1998 marked an important turning point.

So, what exactly is a youth policy?
A National Youth Policy is often described as a signal of the government’s commitment to the young population, and provides a practical framework for national youth development, that is, creating a conducive environment and opening opportunities for the country’s young people to grow and reach their full potential. In other words, a document developed to guide priority intervention by the state and other key stakeholders to youth development, participation and involvement.

The youth policy is sometimes referred to as a ‘cross-sectoral policy’ or an ‘integrated policy’, meaning policies of different sectors, government’s actions and measures in varying areas must be coordinated into one comprehensive strategy.

The policy defines who is a young person, not biologically, but as Youth Policies’ Manuals have explained, the concept of youth is socially constructed, and is premised on the socio-economic development of a society.

When did Guyana’s initiative towards a policy commence?  
Guyana’s first National Youth Policy was drafted in 1993 and was tabled in Parliament in 1995. During the course of related activities, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport was created in 1997. In 1995 also, the Government of Guyana, along with other Commonwealth Heads of State committed, at the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting, to formulate and or update their national youth policies, to build capacity for youth development.

Over the years, there have been attempts by the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports, along with partnering agencies, to revise the youth policy. These attempts (2007, 2009, 2011) started, went through the different stages but were never completed.

In mid-2013, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports with support from the Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre and UNICEF Guyana attempted once more to revise the National Youth Policy for Guyana. The Policy will be supplemented with a strategic implementation plan. The Consultant was being assisted by two broad base National Committees; a National Stakeholders Committee (NSC) and a Youth Steering Committee (NYSC).

Why is a National Youth Policy important?
Some countries may not have one and things may be going well, so why all the fuss about getting one in Guyana? Taking into consideration that such things as the fact Guyana is a developing country, ranked a lower middle income with lots of issues such as, literacy, education, high school dropout rate, unemployment, etc., a national youth policy then becomes strategic in lifting and supporting the young generation, particularly since persons under age 35 years old account for over fifty percent of the population.

It is as simple as this: youth policy = youth development = national development.

Of course, it is never this straight forward and some countries are unique and will naturally have different processes and policies.

The first aspect, Youth Development, was explained by Pittman as “…the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to (1) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded, and (2) to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.” (Pittman, 1993, p. 8).

This definition mentions one of the critical elements of youth development, that is, self discovery and empowerment of each individual.

Adopting and implementing a youth policy is not an easy process, but nevertheless, the policy must be formed in order to truly shed light on the plethora of challenges young people face on a daily basis that hinder the achievement of their maximum growth and the realization of their full potential. The policy and action plan must therefore outline multi sectoral approaches, responsibilities and programmes that can benefit young people and their immediate surroundings.

For instance, during the consultation in Region 1, many of the young people mentioned the need for skills training, reviving the technical vocational centre, investment in sports, among others. This evidence based recommendations then filter into youth programmes for Region 1.

Youth development also fosters participation, advocacy, and representation of the dynamic input of youth, youth organisations and clubs and youth development partners, where recommendations are channelled, and policies are implemented and evaluated.

Further, involving and engaging young people in the governance structure gives a greater understanding of systems and procedures, but most importantly, understanding citizen responsibility, principles, etc.

National development, on the other hands, is an infinite discussion which can maneuver from politics, to economics, culture, society, inter alia. But in the context of youth development, I refer to the World Development Report 2007, which says, “the World Bank suggested that developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their record numbers of young people aged 12-24 could take advantage of their “demographic dividend” to accelerate economic growth and sharply reduce poverty”.

Valuing young people as equal partners in the process of development and the sustenance of democracy is absolutely essential to the preservation of our collective future. Harnessing potential, building and strengthening skills and capabilities, educating and nurturing a population, are all positive signs of socio-economic development in a nation.

One of the most recent policies I have read was Sri Lanka’s National Youth Policy, and it’s quite comprehensive. I particularly like the inclusion of ‘professionalization of the youth work sector’, ‘civics and citizenship’ and ‘youth Ombudsman’. Give it read when you can.

There are bigger discussions on youth policies but I shall end here. For persons who would like to know more about youth policies, simply google ‘youth policy’. If you’re in Guyana, get involved with a youth organization or start your own if there are none nearby. For more information on that join the Guyana National Youth Council page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/161463550702531/) and drop us a line.

 

*Tricia Teekah currently chairs the Youth Steering Committee for the Guyana Youth Policy and is Board Secretary of the Interim National Youth Council. She also specializes in International Relations. 

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