Issues for youth meet to ponder

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday 15th April, 2013

 THIS week, approximately 400 delegates from 38 countries will attend the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ meeting in Port Moresby.

Commonwealth Secretariat director for youth affairs, Katherine Ellis said last week that the meeting would be focused on delivering sustainable development for youth.

This, the secretariat hopes to do by having this meeting agree to the establishment of a Commonwealth Youth Index and a Commonwealth Youth Council.

While welcoming this meeting in a country where a sizeable percentage of its population comprises youths, The National would also like to see several issues discussed.

Firstly, there must be a definition of who exactly constitute youths in a population.

While problems afflicting youths are generally uniform globally and understood, defining youth is problematic. If youths are to be defined by age – at what age does an infant toddler progress to youth and at what age does a youth pass into adulthood? This is important for designing programmes because, like the school curriculums, that which is good for the pre-schooler is way different from those designed for an adolescent secondary school student and that is different again for the semi-autonomous mode of the university scholar.

In some settings, and PNG is one of them, youthful industry becomes adult responsibility by the age-old dictates of marriage and this affects girls more than boys. 

It is not uncommon for youths of both sexes to marry before the age of 20. 

What of them? Do they remain youths or are they adults?

Labour laws have their  own take on youths. For the past week there has been a road show on child labour going through the provinces. At what stage is child labour illegal and therefore punishable by law and when should a young person be able to join the labour force and contribute to the welfare of family and nation?

There has been not a small amount of debate prior to and after the elections on underage voting. Without an iota of a doubt, underage voting – that is voting under the legal age limit of 18 has been going on in PNG in every election. Nobody, least of all government, keeps reliable birth registries. The pubescent, adolescent or younger constitute a big population bulge which is a tempting pool of votes so the drive is to include them. And there is that sly compelling voice that always urges the young to help elect the leader who will cater for their welfare.

Secondly, in Papua New Guinea there is a well-worn expression that refers to the young as the “future generation” or “future leaders” of the country. This might be good in the sense that it inculcates in the minds of people the importance of investing in today’s youth.

What such attitudes miss out on, unfortunately, is the current and available contributions of the youth of this or any country. Youths are a powerful voice, they are an influential agent for change, they are the most energetic and in many instances the most innovative in society. Harnessing those skills now should never be shunned and avoided with some throwaway and archaic description such as child exploitation or child labour. The issue needs a far deeper look than what’s given at present.

This raises our third point. While statistics appear far more reliable and comprehensive on childhood, it is pretty thin on the important periods of a youth’s development between the ages of say 10 – at the age of puberty, and about 19 – when adolescence ends. There seems to be a greater emphasis on physical changes and psychological needs of this age group and not as much on the psychological changes and physical needs of the youth.

The youth becomes increasingly aware that they are becoming adult, that they will need to grow up and get a job and help meet social responsibilities. They start thinking not only of having access to quality education but also of a decent job when they pass out of education. Stress, something not often experienced before, quite often enters the fray at this stage for the youth. In PNG’s case, great demands on the child to repay investment (including being born) as well as provide security could  lead to tendencies such as suicide or teen marriages. Without conclusive studies we cannot be sure but of suicides and teen marriages there are plenty.

These are a few issues this important meeting should ponder.