It is not every day that youth, especially students, ask for services like library, counselling, child protection and internet facilities in public fora. Quite often, they raise or ask questions prepared by elders or teachers. The Youth Summit in Tsirang was quite different.
The young participants called for an integrated youth service centre in the town. The reason is that they are looking for a safe place to spend quality time, learn and prevent youth from coming into conflict with law or while away time. They found a solution in a service centre. The summit, “Actualizing Youth”, organised by Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy provided an opportunity to the youth to voice their concerns and needs.
The idea is to develop a child-friendly local government by involving youth.
This is a good initiative.
A youth pointed out that there is a lack of youth engagement in decision-making processes. It is said that involving the young in decision making is an important building block for a successful democracy.
About 25 percent of our population is youth.
Sometimes, solutions for their problems, especially on issues they face in real life, come from them. Such opportunities could give youth time and space to discuss issues such as unemployment, crime, social media and many more that concern them and the country.
As we take such fora or summits away from the capital city, our youth could bring up issues affecting their village or community. As a gup said, children below 18 are not even allowed to attend village zomdus (meeting) while those above 18 attend for the sake of representation. It is not only about youth participation. Giving youth the space and letting them understand their importance could be a bridge between elected leaders and future leaders.
The idea should not die when the organisers leave the dzongkhag or stakeholders return home. If such initiatives can be sustained, it would help in achieving what we aim for – participatory democracy.
The Bhutan Children’s parliament is a good example. After the initial excitement and the hope of making the young understand the electoral system and processes, and encourage student participation, there is not much to show beside the democracy clubs in schools.
Some initiatives are expensive to continue. Perhaps the BCP and its mock parliament sessions is one. However, engaging youth with local leaders by inviting them to their Tshogdus and Zomdus could prepare them and give them first-hand experience in formulating public policy while also sensitising the young on issues concerning the country and themselves.