‘Safe Spaces For Youth’ was the UN theme for this year’s International Youth Day.

Promoting availability and accessibility of safe civic spaces for political engagement, electoral participation, and freedom of expression of young citizens has become a significant goal for governments and Election Management Bodies.

According to last year’s UN World Youth Report, “as more and more youth grow in a technologically connected world, they aspire to engage deeper in the political, civic and social matter in their communities.” Thus, ensuring young people’s involvement in institutionalised political processes is essential.

Youngsters, between the ages of 15 to 25, constitute about one-fifth of the total world’s population (UNDP, 2015). Moreover, the standard age in different countries allowing legal participation of youth in politics starts from 25, while the average voting right age begins at 18 years. The United Nations reports that about 1.65% across the world are in their 20s while 11.87% are in their 30s.

In the light of recent worldwide political developments, the focus of youth’s engagement in political and democratic processes has reasonably increased. The age group between 25 to 45-years combines the most politically engaged, whether it comes to voting or taking part in mainstream elections. However, it is worth noting that while young people are often involved in informal, politically relevant processes, such as activism or civic engagement, they are less formally represented in national political institutions such as parliaments or political party lists.

A survey conducted by the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development in almost 186 countries (2013) stated that the significant issue youth faced was limited opportunities to effectively participate in the conventional decision-making processes as the already established politicians have more control over the system. Still, nowadays, youth manages to pave the path for themselves in this activity be it in the form of student politics or struggling young leadership.

The UNDP Good Practice Guide on “Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle,” reminds policymakers that capacity development is an integral measure and that supporting the political participation of youngsters should extend across the electoral cycle.

Five final recommendations

Governments and policymakers can address political disillusionment and disenfranchisement by restoring political agency to young people. It is crucial to uplift innovative projects from youth in public-policy making, including training them as active leaders and crafting space for youth empowerment.

  1. Provide young people with the means to become agents of positive change, by teaching general political literacy and socialisation, and by exploring and endorsing alternative forms of engagement.
  2. Open institutional channels for dialogue and encourage them to express discontent and grievances against the political establishment legitimately. Take their concerns seriously and make them a priority.
  3. Evaluate measures such as the introduction of youth quotas to improve their representation (especially female youth) in national parliaments, decision-making bodies, and political parties.
  4. Promote straightforward interaction between government officials and youth to facilitate communication, feedback, mediation and joint action in policy development and conflict resolution.
  5. Invite youth to participate as election observers, collaborate or sit on national election commissions, and serve as polling station workers.

Youth has emerged as a creative force in the political realm providing dynamic sources of innovations and accounting for catalysing changes in politics. Opportunities for youth to engross governance activities and chip in political and decision-making processes have been historically based on the socio-economic and politico-cultural environment of each country. Nevertheless, it is time that decisionmakers take a more robust approach to grow youth political participation as their exclusion from formal processes threatens the legitimacy of political systems and the future of democracy itself.

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