Young People Recognized as International Experts at UN Event
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It’s not every day at the United Nations that young voices are gripping the attention of adult representatives, organization directors, and foreign ministers. What took place last Tuesday morning at the Westin Hotel in NYC was the event on “International Youth Voices on Post-2015,” where young representatives signaled that “young people are suffering with the same issues on a large, global scale” and want to do something about it. From these voices, it was very clear to those listening that youth representatives around the world had put careful thought into what needs to be said on behalf of children and youth around the world. While the Millennium Development Goals have achieved a lot, the unfinished business of defending the rights and ensuring the well-being of children must be ambitiously addressed in the post-2015 development agenda. Furthermore, young people must participate in this agenda. After all, children do not only inherit the world in the future, but shape it in the present.
It was very inspiring to be in a room full of young voices, demanding to be heard and listeners, willing to advocate for those voices. Youth representatives from Germany, Mexico, the UK, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, United States, and Turkmenistan were formally brought together, but youth from the Philippines, Belgium, and Uganda also commented from the globally represented crowd. Young people know and show that coming together and learning from each other will result in shared outcomes, bigger voices, and greater action.
“Young people,” as Jamira from the U.S. said, are “experts of their own experience.” And as Silvia from Mexico questioned, “where is the experience from our struggle?” Kim and Kira from Germany pronounced “we demand the inclusion of youth” and Mohammed from Sri Lanka poetically warned, “Recognize us, don’t ignore us, go with us, don’t abandon us, include us, don’t exclude us.” Tayyaba from the UK rightfully exerted that children must be and want to be more involved but need to be involved consistently from the beginning so that they can have adequate answers and fully know about the decisions that are being made for them.
While there was huge overlap on their demands for education, environmental protection, health care, good governance, employment opportunities and social protection for people with different abilities, I was particularly struck by their demand for human rights, equity, and inclusion. Kim and Kira poignantly noted that issues that are not close to everyone cannot continue to be ignored and that all countries must work together on these issues for real progress.
Adult listeners such as Yoka Brandt, the Deputy Executive Director from UNICEF, Roberto Dondisch, the General Director for Global Issues from Mexico, and Gudrun Kopp, Parliamentary State Secretary from Germany, reaffirmed the need for youth voices to be heard. It is obvious that global issues matter deeply to young people and young people have compelling responses to the issues that are being neglected. Children, adolescents and young people – as creators of innovative solutions and as stakeholders in both present and future progress – must be involved in decision making processes that have an impact on them and their world.