International Youth Day today: ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’ | Sunday Observer

International Youth Day today: ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’

When you hear that there are thousands of young people who don’t pursue education after their O/Ls and hundreds of thousands more not in employment, or in formal training at any given time, it is a stark reminder of how vulnerable young people are.

We say that our youth carry with them the hope of the world, but who carries them? Young people are increasingly vulnerable in a world filled with conflict, violence, drugs and human trafficking, the spread of disease, natural disasters, and so on. Every trial of the world seems to affect young people the most. Young Sri Lankans in particular lived in volatility for almost three decades during the war and almost a decade later we are still experiencing the remnants and repercussions of communal violence.

In Sri Lanka, close to a quarter of our population is estimated to be youth between the ages 15-29.. According to data, close to 98% are literate. We have numerous national policies to empower our youth. There are many actors, state and non-state, global and local, continuing to invest in youth. Despite all the good intentions, investments and policies, there are many areas which require urgent attention. Youth unemployment continues to be one of the biggest issues and there are serious concerns regarding skills mismatch as well.

It is a known fact that, a lot of youth in Sri Lanka are looking for the easy way out. School drop-out rates are increasing as easier ways of making money are presented. For instance, young boys would rather purchase a three-wheeler and earn a daily income, rather than complete their education and find employment. Even on completion of their education, often, many young people want to secure a ‘government’ job rather than consider the corporate sector or become an entrepreneur.

The issues faced by them are complex and require interventions and programmes that cater to the aspirations of today’s youth to become future-fit. We need to build platforms that enable young people to champion and thrive in a competitive global market. The world’s youth need safe spaces -- public, civic, physical and digital, where they can freely express their views and pursue their dreams.

Everyone working towards empowering youth need to come together, with more coordinated efforts, investment in skills development and education, especially in STEM education. As they are the torch-bearers of tomorrow, it is imperative to create safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. While there are many types of spaces, safe spaces ensure the dignity and safety of youth.

Today, August 12, we celebrate International Youth Day (IYD) and this year, the focus is on “SafeSpaces4Youth”. In Sri Lanka, a platform is currently being designed and developed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to empower the youth through a more coordinated approach. Through this partnership a comprehensive Youth Development Programme for Sri Lanka will be developed and identify key areas for strategic interventions and provide a framework for integrated youth development programming. UNDP is also working in partnership with the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications, the National Youth Services Council and the Information Communication and Technology Agency of Sri Lanka to promote social innovation and youth entrepreneurship.

These are a couple of strategic initiatives, and many more by many others. If we are to truly realise the vision of building a future-fit youth, as we mark another IYD, we need to commit ourselves to engage more young people in our work, listen to their aspirations, provide spaces and platforms for them to feel safe and thrive, and work in a more coordinated way to empower our youth.

Fadhil Bakeer Markar

Partnerships and Youth Focal Point,
UNDP Sri Lanka