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‘Young people in all countries are both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation. Their imagination, ideals, considerable energies and vision are essential for the continuing  development of the societies in which they live. The problems that young people face as well as their vision and aspiration are essential components of the challenges and prospects of today’s societies and future generations’. (World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond, United Nations, 1995)

There are over 1 billion young people (aged 15-24) in the world today, which amounts to some 18% of the world’s total population.

Youth is viewed as a very specific stage between childhood and adulthood, when people have to negotiate a complex interplay of both personal and socio-economic changes in order to move the ‘transition’ from dependence to independence, take effective control of their own lives and assume social commitments.

Today’s young generation experiences widening social gaps and faces diverse challenges.

Even though, in some parts of the world, young people are better educated than ever before, they are faced with increasing insecurity in the labour market.

Those who have the opportunity to go to school are forced to study longer and longer as job opportunities become scarcer, less well paid and less secure, delaying the age at which they become financially independent from their parents.

Those who do not have the opportunity to pursue their education or who choose to leave the school system at an early age face marginalisation from the broader community from which they may never recover, either as a result of long-term unemployment, or low-paid, insecure and even dangerous jobs.

Commonwealth Youth Ministers and Heads of Government (at their 1997 meeting in Edinburgh) view that young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

They also endorsed that empowering young people means creating and supporting the enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own terms, rather than at the direction of others.

These enabling conditions fall into four broad categories:

i)   an economic and social base;
ii)  political will, adequate resource allocation and supportive legal and administrative frameworks;
iii) a stable environment of equality, peace and democracy; and
iv) access to knowledge, information and skills, and a positive value system.

Empowerment is an end and a means.

Globally, young people account for about 50% of unemployment – even discounting older youth in the 25-29 years category. Unemployment rates for these younger youth are over three times as high as they are among adults.

And despite gains in primary education, 133 million 15-24 year olds are illiterate. Among these are many of the 13 million young women every year who give birth aged 15 to 19. (World Bank, 2005)

Political will and commitment at the highest levels are of primary importance in creating the enabling conditions for youth empowerment.

At the national level, this commitment is reflected in a government’s willingness to allocate adequate financial and human resources to youth empowerment.

Political will is also reflected in legislative, constitutional, policy and administrative provisions as they relate to youth participation and other youth issues.

At the global level, political will is also reflected in international agreements and global mandates of the UN, the Commonwealth and regional organisations.

This includes the ratification and implementation status of a range of human rights instruments.

Young people need not only be victims or perpetrators of violence. They have a vital role to play as peace-builders.

When young people are disenfranchised they may become drawn into violent movements – although usually as foot soldiers (often literally), rather than as leadership.

Worldwide, an estimated 300,000 people under the age of eighteen are now or have recently been involved in armed conflict, and another 500,000 have been recruited into military or paramilitary forces. (World Bank 2007).

Young people need a range of knowledge and skills to cope in today’s world: literacy, numeracy, life skills and ICT skills, to name just a few. But they also need a positive value system.

A positive value system cannot be simply taught, as if it were another kind of information. A value system is demonstrated, by actions.

By their actions, youth leaders and other role models in government, civil society, media and education need to demonstrate:

  • That all young women and men have grounds for self-worth;
  • That people of all backgrounds and in all circumstances deserve the respect and understanding of others;
  • That violence is not the way to resolve conflicts;
  • That traditions are often things of value, but are not to be followed blindly;
  • That change is a constant, and must be faced with hope and creativity;
  • That consensus can be reached through dialogue and debate;
  • That human rights are to be respected.

Young people can only commit themselves to active participation and full integration in society when they find ‘enabling’ environments for the fulfilment of their civic potential and when their actual needs and conditions are taken into account.

Comprehensive national youth policies that foster this ‘enabling’ condition and ensure the full rights of youth as members of society, are in many countries among the most recent types of public policy.

Consequently, there is a great demand for the sharing of experience in formulation, implementation and best practice as concerns strategies for youth participation and involvement.

There is a high potential for cooperation in this field, particularly through networking of both governmental and non-governmental youth organisations on a regional and international scale.

In Malaysia, The National Youth Policy was accepted by Cabinet in 1985 and revised in 1997. The policy became the first milestone for bringing the youth closer to become partners in development.

It serves as a framework for the planning and implementation of youth programs in the country. The 1983 Policy recognized youth as a resource with tremendous potential to contribute to the overall development of the country. It had the following principles:

•    To uphold the principles of Rukunegara (Principles of Nationhood);
•    To uphold the spirit of solidarity, volunteerism and autonomy;
•    To develop leadership qualities;
•    To encourage participation in the decision-making process at all levels;
•    To develop high moral values and awareness of the importance of personal health and fitness; and
•    To acquire broad knowledge in all relevant fields.

In 1994, the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS), the Malaysian Youth Council (MYC) and the Youth Development Unit of the then Malaysian Agriculture University began a review of the National Youth Development Policy of 1985.

In September 1995, the MOYS presented a Draft of the Review of the National Youth Development Policy that contained a proposal for the revised individuals and organizations working in the area of youth development.

The National Youth Development Policy was officially launched at National Youth Consultative Council (NYCC) Conference in December 1997.

The National Youth Development Policy has the following as its objectives which are to establish a holistic and harmonious Malaysian youth force imbued with strong spiritual and moral values, who are responsible, independent and patriotic; thus, serving as a stimulus to the development and prosperity of the nation in consonance with Vision 2020.

The Policy includes seven strategies:

•    Enhancement of the knowledge base in various subjects to develop the competence of youth; Inculcation of moral values and development of a positive and creative attitude in youth;
•    Equipping youth with state-of-art technical knowledge and vocational skills as well as involving them in entrepreneurial activities in line with the demands of nation-building;
•    Engagement of youth in societal and voluntary activities that lead to a healthy, active and dynamic lifestyle that would nurture youth into responsible leaders of high calibre;
•    Encouragement of partnership and cooperation amongst government agencies, NGO’s and the private sector for the benefits of youth development; and
•    Encouragement of youth to further promote closer ties and international networking with international communities.

The National Youth Development Policy identifies an Action Plan to achieve its stated goals. The plan has eight main steps:

•    To provide knowledge-based training programs jointly organized by public sector agencies, youth organizations, NGO’s and the private sector;
•    To strengthen leadership and self-development programs that can further develop self-sustaining familial, religious and social institutions, thus enhancing the efficiency of roles played by youth;
•    To upgrade skills development training and to create entrepreneurial and commercial opportunities that will propel youth to become independent, competent, and capable of pursuing successful careers;
•    To empower youth organizations so that they capture the interests, commitment and enthusiasm of young people and activities planned by the society;
•    To provide opportunities and facilities for the self-development of young people in social and economic functions;
•    To enhance the spirit of volunteerism and patriotism through voluntary social work;
•    To ensure the understanding of youth in matters of globalization and the importance of international networking and partnership with governmental agencies, NGOs and the private sector; and
•    To provide the necessary infrastructure and mechanism for youth activities relating to research, assessment and evaluation.

In the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011 – 2015), Malaysian government recognises the vital importance of youth in the economy, therefore the Plan aims to better prepare them to undertake their roles in contributing towards national development, through instilling the right skills set, values and positive mindset to help them succeed.

The youth population will need to be proactive and dynamic in order to adapt to the evolving landscape of the market economy.

According to the plan, the thrust of youth development would include providing youth with necessary skills to increase their participation and contribution to nation building, as well as develop their leadership qualities and inculcate positive values among them.

The formulation and implementation of integrated,cross-sectoral youth policies formulated with a long-term vision and in cooperation with young people is a challenging, but indispensable task.