What a pleasure is has been to listen to the voices of Caribbean youth leaders at the 10th Economic and Social Council Youth Forum sponsored by the UN, April 7-8, 2021. It is clear that they "Get It." They advocated for building resilience, drive, creativity and leadership in participating in the decade of action to deliver the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs). In his opening statement to the Forum, H.E. Mr. Munir Akram, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) makes the case that: "The future belongs to you, the youth. We need your energy, your ideals, your boldness, your imagination, your innovation, to build the structure of a peaceful, prosperous and equal world order”
Youth in the COVID-19 Era: What are they responding to?
The Forum began on April 7th which coincided with World Health Day, highlighting the immense impacts that COVID-19 on young people around the world:
The forum also takes place in a year when COVID-19 has had multidimensional health, economic and social impacts globally. In Latin America and the Caribbean gross domestic product has declined 7-7% in 2020, poverty effects 231million people with an increase of 28.5 million people living in extreme poverty.
How are the Challenges facing Youth being tackled?
At the special Caribbean Youth Regional Table within the Forum (April 8) the panelists (listed at the end) highlighted the need to view good health and wellbeing in the broadest context of the WHO mission of health as embracing physical, mental and social well-being. In the Caribbean as in the entire Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, the challenge is the triple burden of food insecurity, malnutrition and obesity. The closing of schools for example, has had a negative impact on those vulnerable youth and households. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) Survey, 2020 for LAC shows that 31% of young people suffered from shortage of food with 16 percent from households without resources to buy food. In addition, 52% of young people expressed experiencing greater stress, 47% of having panic attacks during the lock down and more than 50% of those living with HIV stopped accessing antiretroviral treatment. There was also a recognition that the migrant populations were particularly affected due to structural victimization. These factors were compounded by a lack of adequate economic responses, largely due to the fact that many Caribbean countries are dependent on tourism whose revenue stream both for governments and the private sector, is highly compromised. The Youth Leaders were aware that the need to procure loans to cushion the economic crisis will increase the burden of debt repayment which their generation would have to bear. Consequently, they supported the new Special Drawing Rights proposed by the IMF. The dilemmas for many Caribbean countries are that they do not have a system of universal unemployment insurance and lack other adequate social safety net programs.
The Caribbean Regional Table pointed to comparable challenges resulting from the inequities in access to education that were magnified by digitization, resulting in an increasing number of less privileged children and young people being left behind. This level of vulnerability is even more so when the differently abled are added to the mix. Then there is a different dimension to digitization which plagues many Caribbean societies. Several processes that enhance more effective ways of doing business requiring digitization are lacking. These include implementing online banking, online accounting, and other financial and operational procedures. Even when they exist, uneven access again negatively affects the marginalized individuals and communities the most.
Why Caribbean youth "Get It"
The Caribbean Youth advanced several worthwhile recommendations which focused on 5 key issues each of which provided an understanding of the different youth platforms used to respond to the pandemic, the challenges and priorities related to specific aspects of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They include:
The Caribbean Youth Regional Table Session concluded that these and other challenges, must be addressed comprehensively and coherently. They are the vitality of leadership capabilities by their active involvement in several initiatives for overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. They have advocated for the Caribbean to act collectively, engage youth in the policy formulation, and include youth more actively and less as tokenism in the business of the Caribbean Community. And through collective Caribbean action, they call for establishing the dynamics to foster international cooperation, especially by fully utilizing and strengthening the United Nations – the world’s only universal organization – and by reinforcing respect for its fundamental principles of Justice for All.
Reflecting on the history of youth development in the Caribbean, it is revealing that in 2018, the UN Secretary-General launched the first-ever UN system-wide Youth Strategy. This is 8 years after the Caribbean Youth Ambassadors strategy: The Eye on the Future was presented to CARICOM Heads of Government in Suriname. That strategy evolved in an era when many CARICOM Member and Associate Member States included CARICOM Youth Ambassadors in their country delegations to the Heads of Government Conference. More recently, CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin Larocque valiantly convened annual CYA Forums and the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS sponsored a series of engagements involving CYAs in its Justice for All Programme. But significant results require activities designed to achieve, youth resilience be institutionalized and budgeted for. The current discussion of Caribbean Youth Leaders at the UN Youth Forum 2021, and their articulation for action toward sustainable development deserve the fullest attention by CARICOM Heads of Government. An appropriate message is delivered by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres to the UN Youth Forum 2021. Watch the video:
Participants in the Caribbean Youth Leaders at the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Table
Dominique Noralez (Belize) & Java Sealy (Barbados)-- Co-Chairs
Franz George, Commonwealth Youth Council; Roshanna Trim, Caribbean Regional Youth Council; Representatives of Caribbean Youth Councils: Christopher Laurie, Kurba-Marie Questell, Pryia Khan , Claudia Taboada, Delano DaSouza.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.