UNODC Eastern Africa News and Stories

You are here: Home / News

UNODC Youth hosts a side-event at the ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York and awards the President of the UN General Assembly in Partnership with UN Habitat

New York- On 8 April 2019, UNODC hosted a side event at the ECOSOC Youth Forum. The side event began with a powerful speech from the Head of Criminal Justice at UNODC's Regional Office in Eastern Africa, Ms. Charity Kagwi. She emphasized that while it is often said that youth are Africa's defining challenge, they are also its greatest potential:

"As youth, you are the present, the future and the only hope for a peaceful, just and sustainable world."

During the -forum, UNODC's Regional Youth Focal point, Ms. Wambui Kahara, handed an award to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa, in partnership with UN Habitat. The award represented the recognition of the UN General Assembly President Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa on the work of young people in informal settlements towards sustainable and healthy environments. The award, in the shape of Africa, was made from recycled glass by two youth-led waste management groups, Kibra Green and the Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (M.E.C.Y.G), groups working on critical issues such as waste management, livelihoods and public space in partnership with UN Habitat.

This came at the final day of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, held from April 8-9 th of 2019. UNODC ROEA in partnership with UN Habitat and UNODC Brazil, and with support from the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative, UNODC's Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, hosted a side event addressing the main conference theme "Youth: Empowered, Included and Equal." The side event was titled, "Taking Action Together: Youth as Champions for Peace and Security," and brought about 60 young leaders, government representatives, the private and public sector, civil society and UN officials to engage in discussion surrounding SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, the creation of safe spaces for youth, and the importance of instilling the rule of law in young people.

The panel included Mr. Charles Kerich, the County Executive from Nairobi, Kenya; Ms. Maria E. Lacerda, Government Representative from the State of Ceará, Mexico; Mr. Jacobo Kombo, President of the Global Youth Leadership Forum based in Spain; Ms. Angelica Soberanes, President of the Regional Youth Network for the Americas International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) from Brazil; and Mr. Charles Nader, CEO of the international free-telemedicine company that began in Mexico. The side event provided a bridge for discussion between these key stakeholders and youth leaders in identifying the mechanisms for creating safe spaces, acknowledging that while youth are often leaders of initiatives that enhance peace and security at the grassroots level, they lack the community spaces necessary for proper facilitation of their projects.

In discussing the importance of safe spaces in youth empowerment and the realization of SDG16, youth participant Mr. Kudzai Mukaratirwa, a Zimbabwean who is currently the Director of Online Model United Nations, noted that from his experience many young people are not aware of their rights and how to exercise them, especially noting circumstances of discrimination. He emphasized the important role of safe spaces in creating the platforms necessary for the dissemination of this knowledge among youth, further noting that to be effective, the spaces must be diverse and inclusive of marginalized youth, ensuring accessibility to those with disabilities or other challenges than may currently discourage or inhibit their participation.

In planning the side event, emphasis was placed on ensuring a space at the table for those from marginalized communities to participate in the discussion; therefore, four youth participants were brought from UNODC Brazil's Youth Ambassadors Programme, an initiative led in collaboration with Instituto Caixa Seguradora that aims to empower young people between the ages of 18 and 25 to act as multipliers of the Sustainable Development Objectives in social and political spaces. As a platform for youth's inclusion in forums for debate and decision-making, the Programme brings together participants with diverse social, economic, academic, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation and gender identity profiles, in addition to having a target audience including members of indigenous communities, quilombolas, refugees and graduates of the socio-educational system.

One of the Programme's youth ambassadors, Mr. Caio Medina Lopes, addressed one of the side event's target questions: when political inclusion can also mean inclusion in corrupt, undemocratic or oppressive systems, how can young people create alternative spaces for political engagement? He asserted that youth leadership, even within bad systems, is still critical and can be a powerful force for change:

"In Brazil, there is still a predominance of older white men in politics which is not representative of the extremely diverse population. But even with little representation, young elected leaders have increasingly stood out positively, such as the federal deputy Tábata Amaral, 24, who has fiercely defended education projects for children and adolescents, and Taliria Petrone, 34, who advocates for more inclusive participation of minority populations including young women and Black leaders in politics. This is changing the Brazilian political scene, creating the diversity we need to effect change."

Questions directed at the panel from youth advocates continually focused on including and empowering youth from marginalized communities, discussing solutions with panelists such as telemedicine specialist Charles Nader on ensuring access to mental health services for rural, poor and/or indigenous populations, in addition to discussing with the wider panel on effective models of inclusive youth engagement in initiatives to decrease crime, violence, smuggling and drug trafficking.

One of the younger participants from George Washington Middle School in New Jersey, noted that many of the programmes and projects developed to prioritize, and tackle youth issues are not implemented in a way that is accessible at the community level:

"…we need to start small with step-by-step plans with the inclusion of youth and education."

Youth participant and 27-year-old founder and CEO of Women in Energy and Extractives Africa, Oguto Okudo, furthered this comment, bringing to light to the importance of educational opportunities in issues of peace and security. She asserted that while there are around one million high school graduates in Kenya each year, there are only around 100,000 available spaces in public universities, leaving many graduates without the proper skills and degrees required by employers.

The panel noted the importance of universal access to quality education, identifying models that include relevant vocational and life skills to ensure the attainment of fulfilling employment by youth. Nairobi County Executive Charles Kerich, acknowledged the situation in Kenya, affirming the positive impact of civic education in decreasing unemployment and corruption. He noted that the Nairobi County Government is focused on prioritizing youth issues, implementing numerous projects across the county, many that employ youth and others that seek to increase educational courses in the STEM fields, especially for young women.