Youth are the right holders of today and the future in every society. We cannot afford to neglect this segment of the population without risking the peace and stability of our societies. There is an urgent need to engage them as partners, to protect their rights, build and harness their potential, skills and energy for strengthening democratic institutions and building inclusive societies without discrimination.
Today, youths represent the majority of the population in many countries, especially in the Muslim world. However, the status of youth rights too often remains far from satisfactory. A significant part of the young population remains inactive and those who are actively seeking jobs face serious challenges. Muslim youths are experiencing stress due to limited opportunities for social mobility and restrictions on participation in social, cultural, economic and political life. Young girls and women are often at a greater disadvantage due to their unequal access to resources and services. This opportunity deficit has led to social turmoil and political unrest in many countries.
Islam places tremendous value on the youth and their role in the development of society. It is that time of a person’s life when all sorts of ideas, including distorted ideologies, could be easily indoctrinated into their minds. Hence, Islamic principles ensure that young people have full access to all their rights without any barriers, while also being accountable to fulfill their obligations. We, as elders, are obliged to serve as role models for the younger generation and uphold our value system. Also, as enablers and policymakers, we must put focus on building character among the youth and guide their positive energies toward building inclusive societies.
Youth rights refer to the full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms by young people. Broadly, these rights can be divided into three categories: Provision, protection and participation. These are the rights that everyone should enjoy but that are denied to some because of their young age. It impacts young people, sometimes overtly, through legal age restrictions, and other times invisibly, through negative attitudes, beliefs, biases and stereotypes. Given these barriers young people face, there is a need for specific protection to tackle discrimination against young people, especially young women.
Unfortunately, however, there is no specific legal framework or instrument setting out the particular rights of young people at a global level. An international legal convention on youth rights, therefore, has the potential to address the specific challenges young people face. In the meantime, the existing universal human rights instruments should be used to mainstream youth rights, including by involving youth organizations and National Human Rights Institutions in national consultations and giving visibility to their submissions. States may also consider developing guidelines for implementing a rights-based approach to youth policies.
Today, we hear a lot about the utility of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These goals, specifically SDG 16, integrate the role of young people in public affairs, access to justice for all, and accountable institutions at all levels for promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. Now, in order to effectively implement these lofty goals, the states should enact the relevant laws, policies and programs. There is also a need to install effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, which could be in the form of disaggregated data and human rights indictors in the states’ reports to UN treaty bodies, so as to facilitate a meaningful dialogue.
The youth are more optimistic and positively engaged toward the future of this planet. Their active engagement in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will expedite eradicating poverty and tackling climate change and inequalities. During its recently concluded annual international seminar, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission emphasized that those countries that integrate the role of young people into public affairs, provide them with access to justice and accountable institutions, and empower them through meaningful participation in decision-making platforms at all levels will be better placed to handle the present and future challenges of sustainable development. An important step to this end would be to take legislative measures to lower the age of candidacy for public office and voting, the commission added.
Among its other recommendations, the commission urged countries to: Address legal, administrative, social, economic, digital and cultural barriers that limit young people’s participation; promote cross-border youth exchange programs for intercultural and interfaith dialogue and harmony; support the establishment of independent, youth-led networks; ensure young people’s access to reliable, safe and youth-friendly information and communications technologies; and promote cooperation toward developing innovative and sustainable solutions in the fields of science, technology and public policy.
The commission also urged the relevant OIC institutions to play their due role in organizing capacity-building programs designed for public officials, national experts, civil society organizations and media working in the domain of youth. It also recommended the establishment of the OIC Youth Waqf with the help of the Islamic Development Bank to address the financial requirements for the implementation of the OIC youth strategy.
It goes without saying that young people are the key driving force for the future of any society. They must, therefore, be equipped with all the necessary tools, including quality education with a focus on integration into the knowledge economy, to attain higher productivity and better compete. The youth, without any discrimination, should also be given agency, voice and opportunities for meaningful participation in the social, political and economic spheres of society.
Marghoob S. Butt is Executive Director of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission.