Vienna (Austria), 12 August 2023 – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) joins young people worldwide in celebrating International Youth Day. Under the theme “Celebrating Ways #YouthLead as Agents of Change for the Global Goals,” UNODC asked five young leaders from Georgia, Mexico, Singapore, Uganda, and the United Kingdom to share what youth empowerment means for them and what they would like decision and policymakers to know about it.
The empowerment of youth focuses on involving young people in problem-solving and uplifting their voices in decision-making processes. “Fostering youth empowerment in areas we are passionate about (…) provides youth collaborative real-world experiential learning while [allowing decision-makers] to leverage our fresh perspectives in problem-solving and critical thinking”, affirms Dervin Lua Wei Jun, a 22-year-old youth advocate and participant of UNODC Youth Forum 2023, representing Singapore.
With less than three per cent of parliamentarians worldwide under the age of 30, young people continue to be underrepresented in decision-making and political processes (Be Seen, Be Heard Global Report, 2022). Barbara Nakijoba, a 29-year-old youth advocate from Uganda, explains that including youth voices in these processes is a game-changer. “Young people bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and an understanding of the challenges they face daily”.
Unemployment is one of the many challenges that youth face. As a 2022 global report of the International Labour Organization underscores, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults: about 75 million young people are unemployed, and more than one in five young people are not in education, employment or training, the highest level in at least 15 years. This, and other factors, makes youth particularly vulnerable to crime, violence, and drug use. “By providing young people access to quality education, vocational training, and job opportunities, decision and policy-makers can reduce the risk of youth involvement in criminal activities,” Barbara emphasizes.
Young people are problem solvers and change-makers, despite the challenges that they face. They are involved in their communities, leading initiatives addressing the world drug problem, preventing crime and countering corruption, organized crime and terrorism. In this regard, Ishaan Shah, a 20-year-old from the United Kingdom and founder of Stolen Dreams, a youth-led organization working on combatting human trafficking, calls decision-makers to invest and resource youth efforts: “We must be supported through core, flexible and accessible funding that responds to our needs.” He also highlights the importance of considering young people as partners in efforts to combat trafficking in persons: “From design and development to the implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and governance of anti-trafficking policies and efforts, youth must be involved, especially youth with lived experience.”
Esma Gumberidze, a 28-year-old disability inclusion advocate from Georgia and a member of UNODC’s “YouthLED” Integrity Advisory Board, took International Youth Day as an opportunity to raise awareness that youth with disabilities are likely to feel less empowered than other demographics to oppose corrupt practices. She points out that considering that “disabled people may not have the same opportunities to blow the whistle (…) funds being spent on disability are not perceived as significant and are less often prioritized for monitoring.” Consequently, youth with disabilities can be severely and disproportionately affected by corruption.
Referred to as the “torchbearers” of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), youth empowerment and their meaningful engagement are vital to accelerating change and achieving the SDGs by 2030. “On International Youth Day, it is important to recognize that young people can be actors of change if they are given academic and professional opportunities, as well as if their innovative ideas and ways of perceiving the world are truly valued,” Monica Celorio, a 24-year-old United Nations Youth Volunteer at UNODC reminds us.
At UNODC, the empowerment of youth is outlined as a cross-cutting commitment in the UNODC Strategy 2021-2025. This commitment is put into action through the Youth Empowerment Accelerator (YEA!) Framework. Launched in 2022, the UNODC’s YEA! Framework brings together our ongoing youth-focused initiatives and provides concrete new youth mainstreaming actions to ensure that young people have the opportunity to meaningfully engage in our mandate areas. The actions range from providing valued work opportunities to ensuring mechanisms for youth engagement in intergovernmental spaces.
Across our work, UNODC is committed to championing youth and expanding its efforts to support young people in their communities in becoming more resilient against drugs, crime, corruption, and terrorism and involving them more actively in crime prevention activities.