Young leaders representing the 54 Commonwealth countries have presented a six-point action plan on youth development to Heads of Government gathered for a seminal meeting in Rwanda.
Key recommendations in the 25-page Youth Declaration include:
Raising the governments’ financial commitment to fighting climate change, investing in low-carbon developments, and increasing the taxation of polluting businesses.
Investing in age-appropriate healthcare – with better access to HPV vaccines.
Eradicating child labour, gender-based violence and child marriages;
Prioritising the social, economic, and political inclusion of all young people – with an added focus on supporting women and the disabled in work and training.
Commonwealth member countries and the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish a Commonwealth Youth Innovation Fund providing grants to young entrepreneurs with start-up businesses and better access to the internet across the Commonwealth so young people, regardless of where they live, are connected.
The declaration is the product of months of deliberation by youth leaders. It was finalized at the Commonwealth Youth Forum, held in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting, under the theme “Taking Charge of Our Future.”
It underscores the importance of considering young people as equal partners in government decision-making and asserts their vital role in shaping the future of the Commonwealth and achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
The declaration was revealed at a ceremony marking the installation of the new Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) – executives who will act as a recognized voice for the 1.2 billion under-30s living in the Commonwealth.
CYC Chairperson, Papua New Guinean Kim Allen, urged young people to be solution-focused and action-oriented.
“Let us reflect on our past efforts and mistakes, assess current situations, identify our strengths, and refine our vision and objectives to move forward. Be adaptable! Build and equip yourself and also help others to elevate them. Focus on people always! Take time for reflections but don’t wait long to act,” says Allen.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC said she sees young people with courage, determination, talent, vibrancy, and innovation.
“You are not tomorrow’s leaders. You are the leaders of today. I watched with such joy in my heart what you have done in the last three days. You have led, you have created, and you have also made great friends. If you look at what you have done the 12th Commonwealth Youth Forum has been a resounding success,” she said.
“Young people are making a difference in every country in our Commonwealth. We know with the right support and the ability to shape decisions you have the potential to transform the future of our Commonwealth. You have everything we need to build a better world.”
Also speaking at the event, Édouard Ngirente, Prime Minister of Rwanda, said that as they concluded what has been an exciting forum, he wanted to urge the youth to take their place on the world stage.
“Be bold and courageous. Chose courage over fear,” he said.
The declaration makes recommendations under six categories: The Rule of Law, Human Capital Development, Facilitate Trade, Boost Entrepreneurship and Tackle Unemployment, Information, Technology and Communication (ICT), Health and Covid-19 and Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability.
Key asks under the ‘Rule of Law’ include giving more power to national youth councils and supporting more young people to run as candidates for parliament.
There is a strong focus on human rights protection, including child protection and eradication of child labour and child marriages as well as the removal of social and economic barriers to access to justice, strategies to tackle discrimination, and the importance of involving young people in conflict prevention and resolution.
Under the Human Capital Development point, the main call to action is the prioritization of the social, economic, and political inclusion of all young people, with an emphasis on practical actions to remove barriers to work and training for persons with disabilities.
On trade and entrepreneurship, young leaders call on governments to address enduring issues around equal pay and affordable childcare to ensure the equal participation of women.
Promoting and protecting small businesses and start-ups, enabling innovation and public sector partnership with youth-led entities are also emphasized.
The next point focuses on Information, Technology, Communication, and Innovation. It calls for Commonwealth member countries and the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish a Commonwealth Youth Innovation Fund, supplying grants to promising youth start-ups. This fund would operate across the Commonwealth, with input and contributions from public-private sector partnerships, academia, and voluntary and non-governmental organisations.
Young leaders have also urged governments to secure an agreement that deems the internet as a basic public good and collaborate on building ICT infrastructures that target internet poverty, and ensure that young people, regardless of where they live, can have equal access to the internet and improved digital literacy skills.
On Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability, there was a strong call for governments to raise their climate financing commitments and increase the taxation of polluting industries, while promoting and investing in sustainable alternatives.
This includes putting into use the global pot of money for climate action called the Green Climate Fund and ensuring all countries can draw from it for their projects.
The Health and Covid-19 point pushes for people to be made central to the devising of solutions to handle future outbreaks.
Also, of importance is ensuring that access to high-quality, age-appropriate healthcare is not hampered by location, gender, social or financial status, the declaration notes. There is specific mention of the need to widen access to HPV vaccines across the Commonwealth with the aim of raising immunity to this preventable cancer.
Young leaders also call for governments to beef-up laws that protect the rights of people with mental health illnesses and provide high-quality and affordable treatment for their conditions.
The declaration will form the topic of discussion when young leaders meet with heads of governments during an intergenerational dialogue on Saturday. Heads will also consider its recommendations during their summit this week.