May 06, Hambantota: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa today called on the world's leaders and policy makers to change their traditional strategies and get the youth engaged in policy formulation and implementation to make them active partners in governance.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of World Conference on Youth 2014 held at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center this morning, the President said engaging youth and consulting with them results in better policy formulation and implementation, including evaluation that helps fill policy gaps.
"It is only by engaging them that we will understand their problems, expectations and aspirations. They need to be nurtured and their needs taken seriously, to ensure the complete empowerment of youth, who are the future of every nation."
The President of the United Nations General Assembly Dr. John William Ashe, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhindawi, and several other heads of the UN agencies along with youth representatives from 106 countries participated in the opening ceremony.
He said the world's leaders and policy makers all too often see the youth as dependents or beneficiaries and not as active partners, who can also contribute to good outcomes. But this traditional thinking needs to be changed, as today's youth have evolved and need opportunities to participate and contribute to social progress.
"We have to recognize that today's youth have evolved and need opportunities to participate and contribute to social progress. We need to re-adjust our traditional and conventional policymaking structures, and institutions to accommodate youth participation. Our thinking has to change. We need to make that leap in policy and thinking when it comes to youth," he said.
The President underlined that youth's minds are extremely sensitive to influence and can be easily misguided which, as experienced in Sri Lanka, is an attraction for terrorist groups, to recruit youth as combatants.
He said in Sri Lanka, former youth combatants were treated as victims of terrorism and not perpetrators, and were all rehabilitated and reintegrated to society, for a better future.
"We strongly believe that it is the society that can rehabilitate and reintegrate these misguided youth, rather than any State apparatus," he said.
The President said Sri Lanka, having experienced two violent youth insurgencies in 1971 and 1989, is mindful of the causes that create violent discontent and pays special attention to the needs and aspirations of the country's significant youth population.
Sri Lanka has recognized that economic and social development was most successful when young people became active stakeholders, in policy formulation and implementation, the President said, adding that the government continues to integrate youth into national policymaking and implementation mechanisms, through a network of more than 10,000 village level youth led organizations and the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament.
He emphasized that the youth need to be given a sense of purpose to harness their drive and vigor towards meaningful activity.
"Their innovation and creativity is vital to exploring new knowledge and preparing the world for the future," he said.
He encouraged the world's youth to be creative and always try to find innovative approaches, to break barriers.
"Use your energy and potential to keep seeking out a better world. Innovation and creativity are your own tools, for a better world," he told the attendees.
President Rajapaksa appealed to the young people who represent the world, to "regard your country, as sacred."
"It cannot be second to any of your interests; nor can it be sacrificed for any gain whatsoever. There may be outside pressures to compromise your love for your country but all such pressures must be resisted at any cost. Only then, can we build a better world for all of us without destroying the cultures, traditions, customs, that we are heirs to."
He invited all the young people to join him on Twitter for a discussion on Thursday.
World Conference on Youth 2014 under the theme "Mainstreaming youth in the post-2015 development agenda" will be held at the BMICH in Colombo from 6th - 10th May 2014.
The conference will provide an exclusive platform for an inter-generational dialogue which leads to a joint youth and youth ministerial declaration, according to the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Youth Services Council Lalith Piyum.
The Conference will bring together 1,500 participants, half of them young people, aged 18 to 29, and 350 of them will come from marginalized backgrounds, making the conference one of the most well represented youth events at the global level according to the organizers.
The 2014 World Conference on Youth is organized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development of Sri Lanka.
(Photos by Sudath Silva)