We Need Youth Policy, Now

Based on Plan International’s 2012 World Atlas of Youth Policies, fewer than half of the countries in Asia and the Pacific have youth-specific policies. Some are standalone policies, while others are youth-related strategies and frameworks.

Other countries have integrated youth in their constitutions or sector-specific policies, such as on education, health, and drug prevention. The feeling in such cases is often that children and youth are already covered by policies and education-related agencies—so do we really need to prioritize and direct limited resources to a certain demographic defined only by age?

The importance of youth policy

The answer is a resounding yes. Having a youth policy highlights priority issues, fosters cooperation, honors regional and international commitments, and makes economic sense. “Failing to invest in our youth is a false economy. Conversely, investing in young people will pay great dividends for all,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Youth policies set out commitments by government and society-at-large to address issues faced by youth across all sectors, including education, environment, human rights, health, and labor. Youth policies also help create an environment where young citizens are provided with knowledge, skills, services, and resources to enable them to make a contribution at individual, community, and national levels.
Process for creating youth policies

The process in crafting a youth policy is just as important as the final piece of legislation. Policymakers need to keep in mind that “youth” is not a homogenous group. All kinds of youth should be considered, such as young women, youth with disabilities, unemployed youth, out-of-school youth, youth in rural areas, and youth at risk.

Multiple key stakeholders need to be involved: relevant government agencies, nongovernment partners, the private sector, and of course, young people themselves.

The government of Timor-Leste, a country where about 41% of the population is aged between 10 and 30 years, developed its National Youth Policy using a youth-focused approach. In 2005, the government carried out a National Youth Survey that had 1,100 young respondents, including young women and youth in rural areas. The survey asked them to rate their access to social services and quality of education, and to assess current and future prospects, among others.

In 2009, the Youth Parliament of Timor-Leste (Parlamentu Foinsa’e Nian) was established as a unique platform bringing together 130 youth between the ages of 12 and 16 to strengthen youth participation in the National Youth Policy and in decision-making processes.

Challenges to youth policy

Countries continue to face many challenges that hamper the development of a national youth policy. These can range from a lack of political will and weak coordination among government agencies, civil society, and academe to a lack of institutionalized opportunities.

The challenges are not only limited to writing the policy, but extend to its implementation, which is a key to success. A successful youth policy has to have sustainable mechanisms for funding, clear monitoring and evaluation indicators, and a strategic direction for implementation.

In Nepal, the National Youth Policy, endorsed in 2010, was seen as a means and not the end to improve the lives of young Nepalese. It was accompanied by an Implementation Plan, which tackles government accountability, allocation of responsibilities, and provision of funding: e.g., who does what, how they’ll do it, and how much it will cost. Some 17 government ministries were involved with the Plan. It even resulted in a Youth-Responsive Budgeting System, which is a software package that administers allocation and responsibilities for technical and financial resources for young people’s programs.

The promise of youth policies

The crafting of a national youth policy is a worthwhile pursuit for nongovernment organizations, governments, and youth. Nepal and Timor-Leste are just two examples of successful youth policies.

With the use of new media, access to information and networking tools have opened up new opportunities, allowing more and more young people across the region to be engaged in political issues and socio-civic activities. More governments are seeing how young people can be agents of change. Truly, now is one of the best times to engage youth in decision-making.