“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”- Aristotle
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) youth is the period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community. The United Nations defines youth as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. A number of activities are held yearly during youth month to help raise awareness and provide a platform for youths on issues, such as unemployment, credit financing, training, entrepreneurship, health and wellness, climate change and affordable housing. One such function was staged on Thursday, November 29 at the University of the West Indies, Regional Headquarters at Mona. This Youth Forum had as its theme Youth: Keeping Us More Accountable on the SDGs. The United Nations (UN) developed seventeen sustainable development goals which are the blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. The Youth Forum was put on by the National Integrity Action and Equality Youth Jamaica in association with the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) among other stakeholders. The focus at the youth seminar was on two Sustainable Development Goals. These were SDG# 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and SDG# 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Data provided by the UN regarding SDG# 8 states that the global unemployment rate in 2017 was 5.6 per cent down from 6.4 per cent in 2000. The same source added that women’s labour force participation rate is 63 per cent compared to 94 per cent for men. Statistics for SDG#16 states that among the institutions most affected by corruption are the judiciary and police. Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, University Director at SALISES, UWI in her opening remarks at the Youth Forum was passionate in her call for the State to act with a sense of urgency for the realization of Vision 2030 for making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
Professor Lee said, in 2018, eleven thousand (11, 000) candidates throughout the Caribbean who sat the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) did not pass one subject. She mentioned that 50 per cent of those arrested in Jamaica are in the age group 12-25 years. Professor Lee bemoaned the loss of human potential and contribution by some of the youth, however, she emphasized that many youths were leveling up and contributing in a positive way to the society. While speaking at the Youth Forum, Professor Trevor Munroe, Executive Director of the National Integrity Action, a non-profit organization aimed at fighting corruption in Jamaica through education, encouraging anti-corruption vigilance and activism called for more youth representation on public bodies. Professor Munroe stated that corruption allows for the illegal entry of guns and ammunition in the country thus preventing us from achieving SDG#16. In quoting from a survey done with 10 to 19 year olds, Professor Munroe said, 9 out of every 10 young individuals found scamming and cheating unacceptable behaviours. According to Professor Munroe the findings emerged from a National Survey conducted by the department of Government at the University of the West Indies on behalf of the Office of the Contractor General. In a reference to Decent Work, the Professor said the right to decent employment requires more people with resources to invest. Professor Munroe also said there was a need for a National School Bus System to alleviate some of the problems students face in getting to and from school. Professor Munroe referenced Nicholas Francis from Jamaica College who was murdered in 2016 on public transportation in an attempted robbery. The Professor added that the youth cannot afford to be silent and called for greater advocacy and more rights for young people.
The forum was engaging and informative. A number of gift packages of books were presented to students who participated in the sustainable development activities. Among the schools represented were Gaynstead, Ferncourt and Ascot High Schools, and Village Academy from St. Ann. After the main presenters gave their charge, participants were divided into two groups. Those in attendance had the chance to select either the session on SDG#8 on Youth Employment and the Future Economy or SDG#16 on Youth Participation: the Key to Peace and Security. Dr. Gilbert-Roberts of SALISES and 50/50 Youth Cluster said there was a need to transform systems which excludes young people from engaging more in peace and security as SDG#16 states. She called for a more inclusive approach as the way forward. Sr. Elizabeth Ward of the Violence Prevention Alliance was forceful in her presentation in which she urged attendees not to share violent social media images. Dr. Ward spoke of secondary victimization whenever these vicious images are shared since viewers tend to speak about the images long after the event. Dr. Ward was supportive for more youth led initiatives and stated, “as people learn to read their aggression level falls.” Dr. Ward challenged the media to help hold governments accountable regarding the promises made to the youth. Ms. Kethania Griffiths, of the Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica said there is a need for more youth safe spaces in the society. Her quote, “youths are not useless, youths are used less”, was well received by the audience. Some students expressed concern about the stigmatization of some communities by the police. Sgt. Johnson told the audience they should not be afraid to report incidents of wrong doings. She said that there were many avenues to make reports. She reminded the audience that the police was providing a service not doing a favour. She said that police youth clubs are in at least three (3) Early Childhood Institutions across the island.
National Youth Policy
As we close youth month and look forward we must ask ourselves, what is the status of the National Youth Policy not only in Jamaica but throughout the Region? We need to ask as well how many of our youths have actually seen or read the National Youth Policy? Yes, the youths of Jamaica are not limited in terms of the number of entities and organizations which are geared towards youth leadership, advocacy and lobbying. Unquestionably, there are numerous outlets for our youths to get involved, to be engaged and assist in holding the government accountable. What about those marginalized youths especially those in inner city communities and those from the disabled community? How many marginalized youths are part of the National Youth Service, Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica, the National Youth Council of Jamaica, and the National Secondary Students’ Council? Are there mechanisms in place to ensure that all schools at both the secondary and tertiary levels have a functioning student government as it stipulated by the Education Act? How can the State ensure that a wider participatory youth approach is work driven in all youth programmes. It can be argued that in all our schools and churches there are vibrant youth clubs and youth ministries which allow for youth to have a voice. Additionally, there are many programmes on traditional media as well which facilitate the youths to express their views and concerns regarding issues impacting them. During Youth Month our students also receive the opportunity to participate in a youth parliament exercise. Of course there are social media platforms as well as many youth clubs, some of which are operated by the Police. Historically, the Boys Scout, YMCA, YWCA, Pathfinders and the Girls Brigade have provided guidance and support for our youths. It would be useful to see CARICOM establishing a Youth Parliament to aid in regionalism and assist in shaping youth policies for the Region. Youth Month 2018 was celebrated under the theme: Level Up. Clearly, many of our youths are on the right path. A glowing example is Jamaican singer Dalton Harris, age 24 who wowed the judges and made fans around the globe as he won the 2018 X-Factor UK Many youths volunteer their time and give of their expertise to those who are in need in their respective communities and are respected by the elders.. He is just one of many of our youths who continue to do exceedingly well. Yes, there are those who are not on the correct pathway for whatever reason, they know themselves and need to get their acts together in some positive and meaningful programmes, to assist in molding their characters and providing impeccable leadership. A society can only progress when youth participation is protected. As my dad says never you write off a young person. Youth is indeed that phase of life to #LevelUp.
“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”- Diogenes
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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