THERE are approximately two million young people aged between 15 and 24 years in the Pacific region, yet their voices are seldom heard in decision-making processes.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is helping to change that.
Human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, are important to foster development that is meaningful to all citizens.
Allowing the space for young people to voice their concerns and contribute to effective and relevant development policies must be a part of this process.
The issue of young people’s participation in decision making, particularly at the national level, was raised yet again at a Regional Civil Society and Youth Dialogue held this week at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi, Fiji.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the event, Gina Houng Lee, Human Rights Acting Training Team Leader in SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), stressed that allowing young voices to articulate their concerns is critical in shaping sustainable development in the region.
The Regional Dialogue provides an opportunity for youth leaders to discuss human rights issues relating to good governance, peace, conflict and security in their countries, as well as to develop their skills of advocacy and lobbying.
Thirty-six participants (14 women and 22 men) from Pacific civil society and youth organisations are in Nadi for the event.
Manasa Vatanitawake, a youth delegate from the Pacific Council of Churches, believes it is time to move away from the phrase ‘developing youth’ to ‘empowering youth’ in order to open the minds of young people to new possibilities.
Elwin Taloimatakwa, Team Leader of Solomon Islands Youth for Change Team, is grateful for the opportunity to exchange views with partners from the region.
“This dialogue is a great capacity building, lobbying and advocacy opportunity and, more importantly, it links me up to various groups in the region so we share and learn from each other.
SPC RRRT has been the basis of inspiration on human rights and development. My involvement at the first community paralegal training in Solomon Islands by RRRT inspired me to advocate for the rights of young people in Solomon Islands and I am still here today,” Taloimatakwa said.
The Regional Dialogue is convened by SPC RRRT in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Pacific Centre, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Pacific Youth Council.
It is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Pacific Leadership Program and the European Union.
In presenting his speech at the opening, UNDP Pacific Centre’s Regional Manager, Mr Peter Batchelor, emphasised that the meeting was an important platform that would feed into the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Small Island Development States (SIDS) meeting due to be held in Samoa in September 2014.
He encouraged strong participation from the youth delegates.
According to PIFS Conflict Prevention Adviser, Timothy Bryar, the Regional Dialogue builds on the platform created at the 2011 Wansolwara Youth Peace Building Conference, when youth from 14 Forum Island countries called on leaders to provide safe spaces for dialogue and encouraged young people to be a part of policy-making processes.
Bryar added that the mandate for peace and security and youth participation continues to be a pressing concern for young people.
RRRT is a programme under the Education, Training and Human Development Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). It provides training, technical support, policy and advocacy advice in the field of human rights in order to promote social justice and good governance throughout the Pacific region.