Ø Young people are human beings and are equally entitled to the same standard of human rights as all other human beings
These rights include the right to life, liberty, safety, privacy, and voice
2. The fundamental rights of millions of young people around the world are a mirage
Ø Each year millions of children, youth, and young adults are killed, maimed, raped, abused, and exploited through prostitution, child pornography, slavery, inhumane child labor, and enforced conscription as child soldiers
Ø Tens of millions of young people lack access to even the most basic conditions for survival: water, nutrition, and shelter. At least 1 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day.
Ø Beyond this, the rights of tens of millions of young people to express their points of view, to stand up to injustice, and to demand proper legal and medical treatment are systematically violated or simply disregarded.
3. The incidence of violence, abuse, and neglect are lower in cultures, societies, organizations, and institutions in which young people are permitted, encouraged, and adequately equipped to participate in a constructive manner.
4. The reverse is also true: A direct correlation exists between the level of violence, abuse, and neglect of young people and the lack of opportunities of these same young people to participate in the creation of social reality. The weaker the opportunities, venues, and tools to participate, the greater the likelihood that the basic rights of young people will be violated.
5. Participation itself is a fundamental human right
Ø The universe of human rights has steadily increased over the centuries. The rights included in the social contract are becoming increasingly elaborate, diverse, and specific.
Ø The right to participate is one of the essential elements of true and effective democratic institutions.
Ø That right is acknowledged in numerous legal instruments, declarations, conventions, and other legal documents at the international and national level, including Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This article upholds the principle that participation is both a substantive and a procedural right, that is, an end in itself and “the process through which to take part in and influence processes, decisions, and activities in order to achieve justice, influence outcomes, expose abuses of power and realize rights”.
Ø Youth participation includes:
· The right to express and stand for a point of view
· The right to participate in the formulation, review, execution, and evaluation of public policy affecting young people to the extent that capacity and experience allow
· The right to protest and offer alternative solutions to ineffective or unjust systems
· The right to advocate, lobby, and stand for beliefs
· The right to information and knowledge
· The right to learn
6. Formal legal frameworks recognizing and protecting the fundamental rights of young people are already in place.
Ø The United Nations, numerous international organizations, and most governments in the world have signed a number of legal instruments. These include the almost universally ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child introduced in 1989, the UN World Program of Action, Resolution 56/117 on Policies and Programs involving Youth, and the UN document “A World Fit for Children.”
Ø The Convention and related documents at the international and national levels are profoundly historical and revolutionary, a Magna Carta for the children and young people of the world today and for centuries to come. Why? Because the Convention “introduces a new philosophy towards children and young people in which they are acknowledged as individuals, entitled to respect for their human dignity. It introduces the principle that they are entitled to express their views on all matters that affect them and have those views taken seriously.”
Ø As with all legal frameworks, the value and power of these documents will only truly become alive if their essential intentions, values, and power are brought to life through the specific, daily actions of millions of people
Ø In effect, with young people as with any other human group, any other segment of civil society, the power to alter the quality of life, even the right to life, of a given group, has to be in the hands of the people themselves to a reasonable extent. This reasonable extent is defined by how effectively, or poorly, power is used to ensure the overall wellbeing of young people themselves and of the broader communities of which they take part. When this power is used to harm anyone—either young people or others—it becomes distorted and ceases to be legitimate. The real power behind the right to participate embodied in legal documents are weakened every time a person abuses or misuses this power, a fundamental reason for young people and their adult allies to ensure young people too are kept accountable for their actions.
7. The legal framework matters because the ideas and principles behind them matter profoundly, and because they serve as the foundation for a paradigm shift across the globe regarding how young people are perceived and treated, by themselves and by their elders.
Ø Knowledge IS power: Written and spoken words embody ideas. Ideas embody values, principles, beliefs, visions, intentions, motivations, aspirations, dreams, hopes, and fears. Ideas and words are the invisible architecture, blueprints and scaffolding of the lives we build, personally and collectively. Speeches, essays, declarations, letters of agreement, conventions, and other legal documents materialize and formalize the invisible architecture and as a result are a key step in reforming or redesigning reality—the way people behave, the way organizations are organized, the way resources are allocated etc.
Ø Conversation matters: Silence, listening, speaking, analyzing, remembering, debating, even arguing (when respectful) are at the core of civilized life, social organization, and personal and social life and growth. Communication is literally the lifeblood of collective organizations. From two people talking to 100,000 shouting at a concert or in a street, communication empowers, energizes, and enables people and groups of people to get along. Without communication there is no civilization. Without dialogue there is no progress.
Ø Digital technology is revolutionary: The Internet, computers, software, cell phones, and other new technologies (especially digital technologies which are only now really entering the public domain even in the most technologically advanced nations) are important for many reasons. Prime among these reasons is the reduction in cost, increase in access, and acceleration of communication, conversation, interaction, and collaboration - all at levels that were inconceivable throughout most of human history. This, coupled with the new conceptual frameworks enabling, justifying, and calling for true freedom of expression and participation are setting the stage for profound innovations, perhaps even fundamental reforms.
Ø The real revolution is just beginning: Many people wrongly think the “information revolution” somehow ended with the bursting of the tech bubble in April of 2002, when in truth the digital-knowledge-network revolution is really only beginning, and the full force of its power will be borne out over the next decade or two as multiple trends and revolutions converge. At the core of this convergence are new technologies, communication and collaboration, the emergence of networks, the exchange of information, the conceptual architecture developed over the last few decades, and especially the last few years through conventions such as the Rights of the Child.
8. Why the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and related legal documents are revolutionary
On at least one level, the challenge young people around the world face today—and increasingly acknowledge—is marginalization. It is the same situation that disenfranchised groups have endured throughout history and that still exists in some cultures today.
First, young people--like women, ethnic minorities, enslaved populations, and indigenous people in different times and places—are left outside of the spheres of power and decision-making, even on issues that affect them most directly such as education.
Second, being outside of this sphere of power is sometimes based on perceived differences between groups. These perceptions can result in conceptual formulas that “justify” how one group is more significant than another. In its extreme form, the “other” is downgraded to being somehow less capable than the group in power. These beliefs and the conceptual frameworks built around them have allowed “superior” groups to own, exploit, rape, and kill others throughout history. The three basic forms include conquest, slavery, and colonialism - such as occurred in the Americas beginning in the late 1400s.
A kind of segregation and exploitation is evident, for example, in the treatment of women and of minorities (even minorities of hundreds of millions of people) in societies throughout history and still today. Though not explicitly labeled as “inhuman” (or less than human), in these cases the “other” –women, minorities, poor people — are tagged and treated in special ways that are disempowering – they take away power. “Stupid”, “lazy”, “different”, “uneducated”, “illiterate”, even “poor” or “female” are labels used to justify, on a conceptual level, why certain groups do not “deserve” to be heard, to participate, or to share power.
There are, of course, essential differences between young people as a group and other groups which is essential to acknowledge and respect. Some of these are biological, objective, and undeniable facts of life.
8. Conclusions and importance
· Young people and adults who promote and believe in non-violent, respectful youth participation in the construction of social reality do not engage in illegal, unlawful, or unacceptable behavior. On the contrary - they are simply expressing their fundamental human rights.
· “Giving” young people the “right” to participate is not a choice owned by a society, organization, or individual. Those who stick stubbornly to the notion that they are doing young people (and their adult allies) a favor by allowing them to participate in social life are wrong. Participation is not a matter of favors or privileges— it is a right that young people can legitimately act on where and when they see fit. It is not a gift they have to wait for.
· The essential principles of democracy hold true when it comes to youth participation.
· Youth participation must be built, and maintained, on a clear distinction between direct, indirect, and false representation. Key distinctions must be recognized between: people representing themselves, electing accountable representatives to represent the group as a whole, and people who claim to represent “the people.”
· The Youth Sector is different from other sectors of civil society. Adults and young people are different. People often assume that young people, compared to adults, have less experience, less control over their emotions, as well as less control over resources. The assumptions deserve debate and demonstrate the need for more research, understanding, and caution in how the process of selecting officials and representing youth in society.
· Legal reforms in youth policy have had a real impact. Today there are more and more initiatives, projects and programs around the world where young people participate in decision-making.