Youth Forum delegates demand action on education and unemployment

By 2015, there will be three billion young people in the world – the largest-ever number to transition into adulthood – with 2.5 billion living in developing countries where they will face greater challenges and inequalities than any other social group. 

The Commonwealth Youth Forum provides a platform for youth leaders to discuss issues and policies with the decision-makers and stakeholders of the Commonwealth. This year’s forum, held in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, put forward the theme of ‘Inclusive development – stronger together’ with a fierce determination to ‘leave no one behind’. 

Speaking at the forum’s opening ceremony, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “Today, youth aged 15 to 24 represent one fifth of the world’s population, with 60 per cent of the total youth population living in Asia. 

“In Sri Lanka too, youth comprise a significant percentage at 26 per cent of the total population. This most energetic group of our population needs to be engaged, enabling them to contribute to the development process.” 

The forum demanded that more attention be given to marginalised young people – those with disabilities, girls and young women, migrant youths – to ensure that their voices are reflected in future development frameworks and policies. 

Forum leaders went on to emphasise the value of a complete and relevant education, suggesting that policies should be reformed to improve access to values-based education, as well as entrepreneurship and practical skill-building opportunities through technical, vocational education and training. Addressing the forum, Barbara Kasumu from Elevations Network said: “Vocational and technical training qualifications need to be valued at the same level as traditional academic routes. 

“Education alone does not guarantee employment outcomes and more must be done to ensure that work experience is fully integrated into a young person’s learning experience.” 

Growing youth unemployment was also recognised as a major issue. Delegates drew attention to the need to promote social entrepreneurship and create enabling environments and policies that reflect and address vulnerable work situations. 

Speaking after a session on youth employment, delegate Rachael Kalaba from Zambia said: “I was very impressed with the philosophy of the young speaker Ravi Theja Muthu from India, who told us that if we can’t get out of the box that restricts our entrepreneurial endeavours, then we should destroy the box and think in new ways.” 

The issue of gender and sexual education, rights and discrimination was raised by speakers. Delegates called on all Commonwealth member states to enforce laws that prohibit gender based violence and female genital mutilation. 

The executive for the new Commonwealth Youth Council was also elected and will be chaired by Ahmed Adamu from Nigeria.


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