Timing is right
Sri Lanka’s National Human Development Report (NHDR) for this year focuses on youth, and rightly so. Young people aged 15-29 make up over a fifth of Sri Lanka’s total population, and with the end of the 30 year civil conflict in the country, issues such as youth unemployment, political participation and investment in higher education have become critical issues.
Indeed, according to the National Youth Survey 2013, which was featured in the NHDR, 88% of Sri Lanka’s youth populous stated that they are interested in the current affairs and socio-economic developments taking place around them. Given this significant proportion of youth who claim to be intensely interested in these developments, the question that then follows is, why are these very same individuals so disengaged and uninvolved? Why is it, that in a country with a youth population of 4.64 million people between the ages of 15–29, only a meagre 5% of them are actively engaged and fulfilling their civic responsibilities?
The main reason for this arose during the Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and stakeholder consultations leading up to the compilation of the NHDR 2014, wherein a recurring theme that formed the undercurrent of the discussions was the lack of avenues through which young people could become involved, reach out to the policy analysts and decision-makers whose policies affect them, or even voice their perspectives on how a young person transitioning from youth to adulthood could provide meaningful input.
The year 2014 has been a ‘year of youth’ for Sri Lanka, engaging with the youth to develop more inclusive, youth-related policies. Actually, the past two years have been significant for Sri Lanka, in that the country has been host to numerous international youth-led conferences, such as the 2013 Commonwealth Youth Forum in conjunction with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and more importantly, the World Conference on Youth in May this year which drew 1,500 youth from across the globe, 300 marginalized young people, civil society observers, Youth Affairs Ministers, Government representatives, youth-led organizations, non-governmental organizations, United Nations Agencies, and other development partners. Where for the first time in history, young people and ministers from around the world, agreed on a joint statement – The Colombo Declaration.
Therefore, the launch of Sri Lanka’s NHDR comes at a crucial point in time. NHDR 2014 plays an important role as it could act as a catalyst for fostering national debate on some of the burning issues facing Sri Lankan youth, thereby providing young people with the much-needed and heavily sought-after knowledge necessary to express their views, as well as exchange ideas and potential solutions to pressing national issues. Equipped with this newfound knowledge, will we see Sri Lankan youth taking centre stage when it comes to development? The answer is a resounding YES!
Author – Taryana Odayar