I had the great opportunity to have the keynote speech during the EU Youth Conference in October 2014. I wanted to share the speech also through this blog…
Keynote speech – EU Youth conference – Rome, 14 October 2014
It’s a honour to have this possibility to speak to you about young peoples access to rights!
Youth in a global world
Youth throughout the world have been actors, promoters and victims of the huge recent events in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and Spain, just to name a few. At the same time, a significant number of hate crimes and acts of vandalism are still carried out by young people. Youth is both a great resource and a great force. The question we pose to our selves is why? I think this behaviour could stem from the lack of possibilities that young people have in the fulfilment of their potential. The feeling of not having the power to affect ones own life and the feeling of not having access to rights.
It is therefore believed that creating real opportunities, of breaking this cykle of frustration. Creating a future of hope and possibilities. This lays the foundation for a secure and peaceful society that breaks this cycle of frustration. Ensuring the involvement of young people in the political and socio-economic life of their societies and supporting youth organisations in their work for equality and social cohesion. This will bring social change as well as contribute to creating just and peaceful societies.
This is what I hope we can discuss today, concrete steps in how young people can have access to their rights.
Youth: a problem of definition
Many times the questions when talking about youth rights is, what age defines young people?
I will not answer you with numbers, but I want to highlight that all young people are very different, we are a heterogeneous group. Young people may be in education, we may have a job or they may be unemployed. Many of us live with their families; others have left home and live alone, with a partner, or with friends. Some have children of their own. We are different when it comes to nationality, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, background, beliefs, gender… you name it.
Although the notion of “youth” does not lend itself to a unique or clear-cut definition, young people have specific needs and face similar challenges. They constitute a group of individuals located somewhere between childhood and adulthood; they form a distinct demographic group which should not be conceptualised using upper and lower age limits but rather as a life cycle during which people undergo a process of transition; they attempt to enhance their educational and vocational credentials, gain a foothold in the labour market, establish their household and family, acquire a degree of financial independence and move away from the family home. In each of these spheres some young people are more vulnerable than others.
Despite being perhaps the highest-educated, technically-advanced, and most mobile generation ever, today’s young people do not necessarily share the same opportunities as the rest of society.
With increasing levels of participation in higher education, young people are spending longer periods dependent on the state or their families for financial support, and without earned incomes of their own. Still, when young people do enter the labour market, they may spend considerable periods without a job or in low-waged or insecure employment.
In an ageing society, the 15-29 age group is projected to represent 15.3 % of EU’s population in 2050, whereas it is currently just over 18%. Climate change and globalisation bring about additional challenges for young people. All these changes have made the transition to adulthood and autonomy all the more complex and prolonged.
Young people frequently face injustices on the grounds of their age mainly in the areas of information, inclusion, employment and mobility. Inequalities are particularly visible when young people are acceding to the labour market. Although the 2000 “Employment Equality” directive forbids discrimination based on age, unemployment rate of people under 25 is currently 2.6 times that of the rest of the population. Meanwhile, young people may be exposed to “multiple discrimination” because of their ethnic origins, convictions, religious beliefs, sex or gender, sexual preferences, physical and mental condition.
This means that effective approaches to tackling discrimination must take into account multiple identities, rather than categories such as age, ethnicity, or disability alone. We are all complex individuals, we can not be put into one single box. Our identity being composed of different facets, one of them is age.
Whatever the origins, the impacts of discrimination affecting young people are likely to be marginalisation, social exclusion, lack of access, and increased likelihood of poverty and lack of power. However, within human rights law and international treaties, young people are not always recognised as a separate group that experiences discrimination. A special focus on their rights is therefore required.
Young people should now be victimized, but empowered
Recognizing, protecting, empowering youth rights
In Europe and the world today, there is a need to recognise young people as a demographic group, between childhood and adulthood, with specific needs. A rights-based youth policy should strive to actively promote the autonomy of young people as well as their full participation in society. Protection against discrimination should be strengthened and specific measures to include young people with fewer opportunities in society need to be put in place.
When talking about youth rights, the European Youth Forum refers to the full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms by young people. There needs to be a recognition and conceptualisation of youth rights in order to create pressure and understanding that can give birth to the possibilities for young people to have access to their rights. Promoting Youth Rights certainly means promoting equality of opportunity and this could be done also through positive discrimination for young people.
Human rights instruments enshrining the rights of specific groups already exist; international and regional standards for women, children and persons with disabilities are very common. These instruments are based upon the acknowledgement that these distinct categories of the population bear needs that have not been effectively tackled by universal human rights documents. As is the cases above mentioned, this would empower young people to fight for their rights, while also making them active citizens ready and able to act as full and equal members of society.
In this field it is crucial that young people’s awareness of their rights is promoted and that youth organisations represent an essential actor in this regard, together with advocacy work to formulate and seek the best instruments to defend and recognise such rights.
Implementing young people’s access to rights is a cross-cutting policy task that involves diverse policy areas and decision-making levels: employment policies for quality job, protected mobility, active citizenship to empower young people and youth organisations, education, in particular recognising non-formal and informal learning.
Once young people can access and exercise their rights properly, they will also be better able to participate and contribute to social and political life. If we talk about the risk of a lost generation this is not only in economic terms, but mainly that we have to include all the precious energy, input and contributions of young people to society and their added value in politics.
We are a huge, untapped resource!
This is why the Youth Forum welcomes the integration of the Italian priority under overall topic of the Structured dialogue, which is youth empowerment for political participation.
Its interesting to highlight that some parallel institutional processes are taking place: the Council of Europe is drafting A Committee of ministers Recommendation on young people access to rights with a constant involvement of the youth organisations with the aim of having a strong political commitment in identifying the challenges and promoting adequate measure to cope with them. Very much relevant is also the exercise of mapping the barriers that young people face around their social inclusion conducted by the EU-CPE partnership on youth: this is the kind of exercise we need in order to provide evidence and develop relevant policies with the involvement of practitioners, researchers, youth organisations and decision makers.
Some reflections on the actual challenges faced by young people
Some first interesting reflections have been developed by youth organisations and institutions around the main challenges that young people face in accessing their rights and also areas on which youth is particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, including:
- Youth Employment: participants noted that 73 million young people worldwide are looking for work and in Europe the unemployment rate for those under 25 is 2,6 times higher than the rest of the population. Employment is also often more precarious for youth with less guarantees and access to social protection schemes. There is also a huge problem with zero-hour contract and difficult working conditions. In some countries there is even not equal pay for equal work principle applied: young people have lower minimum wages. Unpaid and not quality internships is another huge challenge in this field.
- Political rights: the age of access to political rights including voting and standing for political office is in some cases discriminatory. In some countries there are high age-limits for standing in certain elections. And also there is also a question if not allowing 16- and 17-year olds to vote is depriving them of their right to participate.
- Education: difficulties in accessing education faced by those aged 15 are very much similar to those faced by the 18 and over group. In many countries when someone reaches 15 education is no longer mandatory and the ability to access the right to education faces even more challenges.
- Military service: although the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child prohibits compulsory recruitment before the age of 18, many states allow voluntary military enlistment before that age. The right to conscientious objection must be also fully guaranteed everywhere
- Health and health care, especially for young women: the right to confidentiality for youth seeking services related to sexual and reproductive rights is still not fulfilled with particular regards to transmitted diseases.
- Youth in conflict with the law: negative image of youth in society can lead to policies that criminalise young pople – i.e. zero tolerance, strong criminalisation of soft drugs use, restriction of movement, freedom of assembly and association. Imprisonment in adult institutions and lack of rehabilitation and reintegration are also serious issues.
- Gender gap in youth rights: young women have the highest unemployment rates, greater likelihood of dropping out form schools and are the least politically represented.
- LGBT youth rights: a lot of attention must be paid for fulfilling the LGBT youth right to individual identity and freedom of living sexual orientation as well as fighting the multiple discrimination they are victims of.
This was a long list. But I wouldn’t go for an analysis of the gaps in the legal universal tools actually existing at international level nor a brief on the two important charters already existing on youth rights the American and the African – but let me say that human rights instruments enshrining the rights of specific groups already exist; international and regional standards for women, children and persons with disabilities are very common. These instruments are based upon the acknowledgement that these distinct categories of the population bear needs that have not been effectively tackled by universal human rights documents.
This is the time to start to acknowledge youth rights and work for the access to rights for all young people! What is needed is political attention and real commitments in many different policy fields.
A concrete step that can be taken by the EU is the establishment of an Ombudsman for young people, whose aim would be to end age discrimination by the EU and its bodies. This was supported by approximately 80 newly-elected MEPs when they pledged for the LoveYouthFuture manifesto during the European Parliament Elections.
Except for this there is the need to increase the access to the actual existing tool in Europe: the EU must sign as soon as possible the European Convention of Human Rights as well as the Social Charter. As many member states must as possible should ratify the Additional protocol of the social charter and allow citizens to use the collective complaint system in order to protect their social rights.
The role for youth organisations and civil society to play in these processes is huge, as well as the role of youth organisations in informing young people about their existing rights and empowering young people to claim their rights! Youth organizations must be strengthened in this work.
We have the rights, but we need to fight to have access to them!
To end, this is a unique moment to discuss the rights of young people and what can be done to make sure all young people have access to their rights. Lets make this a true dialogue and lets together create concrete proposals that will make our EU a more stabile and secure place for all!
Lets bring back the feeling of hope and possibilities.