The Case for Youth Participation in Decision Making

Young people have a wealth of creativity, knowledge and experience. In most aspects, its unique to their situation, and beyond the comprehension of apprehensive adults. I see the construction of walls within the insecurity, and distrust, of age-gaps. Often, these barriers prevent others from listening, much less understand, the voices and concerns of young people.

Working with marginalized young people in a few Southeast Asian countries has enabled me to see the existence of a defective mechanism, the one we build to keep young people from having a voice, in that age-old "Be Seen, But Not Heard" practise. Preventing the youths from co-developing policies with the government, to discouraging their involvement in sorting out challenges in civil society, at most the adult-structure institution provides tokenism in its effort to keep the young from excitability.

There is a refusal to recognize and endorse the legitimacy of participation, of their contribution to decision-making, especially in areas of solving societal problems. High prevalence of belief, which of course is wrong, that youths are meant to be tailored into the mindless machinery; to do the bidding of the educated administrators, the wise politician and the learned bureaucrats. The fact is much of government policies and the NGO operational flow impact on young people's lives. Often we see a systematic wave of disregard, of young people's ideas and views, perhaps also due to our own ignorance and arrogance of thinking that we know-it-all. Its made worse, when we demonize them based on our elitist expectations, that they are poor and deserving the stigma.

Just like Malaysia and Thailand, most governments are concerned about improving educational standards (based on the intellectual might of their leader) and opportunities for adolescents and the young population. Yet very few intergovernmental agencies, in this complex framework, take any measures to find out from young people themselves what youth-based policies work, what is needed to instil democratic spirit, what factors prevent active youth collaboration with institutions, and whether a national "Bring Back Happiness" program is relevant, and so forth.

Based on my experience, indicators show government steering committees and NGOs that involve marginalized young people are likely to see positive behavioural change and a progression of dialogues where parties talk, and often argue, about the concerns that impact on both youths and adults. I don't think, nor do I believe in a circumstance that would lead to a complete harmonious cooperation; and I don't want to see such materializing. Dissent and the obvious flair of disagreements are "what growing up" is all about. And the longer we deny young people their right to be part of society, the more they will rebel to unravel their mark on the present, for their future.


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