Recognizing, protecting and empowering youth rights in Europe and the world

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. Written by Giorgio Zecca, policy and advocacy coordinator at the European Youth Forum

Giorgio Zecca is policy and advocacy coordinator at the European Youth Forum. Originally from Italy, Giorgio leads on the Youth Forum's work on youth rights, as well as discrimination and employment.

Giorgio Zecca is policy and advocacy coordinator at the European Youth Forum. Originally from Italy, Giorgio leads on the Youth Forum’s work on youth rights, as well as discrimination and employment.

Youth in a global world

Youth throughout the world have been actors, promoters and victims of the huge recent events in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and Spain, just to name a few.  At the same time, a significant number of hate crimes and acts of vandalism are still carried out by young people. This behaviour could stem from the lack of possibilities that young people have in the fulfilment of their potential.

It is therefore believed that creating real opportunities, and a future of hope and possibilities, lays the foundation for a secure and peaceful society that breaks this cycle of frustration. Ensuring the involvement of young people in the political and socio-economic life of their societies and supporting youth organisations in their work for equality and social cohesion can bring social change as well as contribute to creating just and peaceful societies.

Youth: a problem of definition

Young people may be in education, they may have a job or they may be unemployed. Many live with their families; others have left home and live alone, with a partner, or with friends. Some have children of their own.  Although the notion of “youth” does not lend itself to a unique or clear-cut definition, young people have specific needs and face similar challenges. They constitute a group of individuals located somewhere between childhood and adulthood; they form a distinct demographic group which should not be conceptualised using upper and lower age limits but rather as a life cycle during which people undergo a process of transition; they attempt to enhance their educational and vocational credentials, gain a foothold in the labour market, establish their household and family, acquire a degree of financial independence and move away from the family home. In each of these spheres some young people are more vulnerable than others.

Despite being perhaps the highest-educated, technically-advanced, and most mobile generation ever, today’s young people do not necessarily share the same opportunities as the rest of society.

With increasing levels of participation in higher education, young people are spending longer periods dependent on the state or their families for financial support, and without earned incomes of their own. Still, when young people do enter the labour market, they may spend considerable periods without a job or in low-waged or insecure employment.

In an ageing society, the 15-29 age group is projected to represent 15.3 % of EU’s population in 2050, whereas it is currently just over 18%. Climate change and globalisation bring about additional challenges for young people. All these changes have made the transition to adulthood and autonomy all the more complex and protracted.

Multiple discrimination

Young people frequently face injustices on the grounds of their age mainly in the areas of information, inclusion, employment and mobility. Inequalities are particularly visible when young people are acceding to the labour market. Although the 2000 “Employment Equality” directive forbids discrimination based on age, unemployment rate of people under 25 is currently 2.6 times that of the rest of the population. Meanwhile, young people may be exposed to “multiple discrimination” because of their ethnic origins, convictions, religious beliefs, sex or gender, sexual preferences, physical and mental condition.

This means that effective approaches to tackling discrimination must take into account multiple identities, rather than categories such as age, ethnicity, or disability alone. When considering discrimination against young people with disabilities, for instance, it is important to assess whether men, women and members of minority groups experience different or additional discrimination.

Whatever the origins, the impacts of discrimination affecting young people are likely to be marginalisation, social exclusion, lack of access, an increased likelihood of poverty and lack of power. However, within human rights law and international treaties, young people are not always recognised as a separate group that experiences discrimination. A special focus on their rights is therefore required.

Recognizing, protecting and empowering youth rights

Human rights instruments enshrining the rights of specific groups already exist; international and regional standards for women, children and persons with disabilities are very common. Furthermore two important regional tools address specifically youth rights: the African Youth Charter and the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Youth.

These instruments are based upon the acknowledgement that these distinct categories of the population bear needs that have not been effectively tackled by universal human rights documents.

Therefore some political and legal measures could be taken in Europe for recognizing, protecting and empowering youth rights.

The compilation of youth rights into one (ideally legally binding) document would be a big step towards enabling a rights-based approach to youth policy. Such a document could take the form of a (framework) convention or a charter.  A Convention on the Rights of Young People should endorse a more proactive approach; it should be a legal document recognising both rights and responsibilities, aiming at fulfilling autonomy for young people, and enabling them to actively participate in society.

Another concrete step that can be taken by the EU is the establishment of an Ombudsman for young people, whose aim would be to end age discrimination by the EU and its bodies. This was supported by approximately 80 newly-elected MEPs when they pledged for the LoveYouthFuture manifesto during the European Elections.

Moreover there is the need to increase the access to the actual existing tool in Europe: the EU must sign as soon as possible the European Convention of Human Rights as well as the Social Charter: many member states must be ratify the Additional protocol of the social charter and allow citizens to use the collective complaint system in order to protect their social rights.

About the writer

Giorgio Zecca is policy and advocacy coordinator at the European Youth Forum. Originally from Italy, Giorgio leads on the Youth Forum’s work on youth rights, as well as discrimination and employment. 

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