Please Sir, I Want Some More!

Marcia Forbes PhD

This was not a sexy event. The media was virtually invisible. But it was an important event and deserved more attention than it got. Such is the fate of matters of the youth –those who live in the liminal land of in-between -- Who constantly have to stand in line and ask for more! The future leaders we call them, while failing to recognition their today status and how this impacts all of us.

In conjunction with UNESCO and specifically its Management of Social Transformation (MOST) programme, Jamaica recently hosted the First Forum of Ministers responsible for Social and Sustainable Development in the Caribbean. Extending over 3 days, the conference was well represented by Ministers, Parliamentary and Permanent Secretaries from throughout the region. The international agencies, including UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS, were in attendance. So too were youth representatives, but not enough! When asked to stand, only about 7 persons in attendance were youths, those 25 years and under.

The primary purpose of MOST is to use relevant research findings to guide government policy decisions. Professor Barry Chevannes made an outstanding presentation, drawing on data collected by the Caricom Commission on Youth Development and generated from across about 5 territories. I was heartened to hear that in recognition of the role the internet plays in the lives of our youths this medium was used as a data collection tool along with the traditional focus groups. Professor Chevannes made it clear that the youths are demanding more and it is in the best interest of us all to listen and take heed.

Youths comprise more than half of the region’s people. In his usual insightful manner, Chevannes made the connection between who we are as a people and the contributions of youths to this identity. As I thought about it the role of youths crystallized even more clearly than before. In Jamaica they are largely the ones performing at sporting events like the Olympics, creating our music, creating new dances, driving new fashions and frequently making us smile with their dub poetry. They make us proud and bring us fame but too often they also make us infamous, flipping our slogan Jamaica No Problem to Jamaica Nuff Problems.

Our youths are among the primary perpetrators of violence. As Professor Nettleford noted several years ago, in Jamaica we do not have gunmen, we have gunboys. The head of UNAIDS pointed out that those 15 years and older account for about 40% of all new adult cases of HIV infestations worldwide. In life we all have to take the sweet with the sour and the sorrow so we need to make allowances for those youths who make mistakes. We need to guide them back to safety rather than abandon or write them off. The urgency of strategic investments in youths is clear, even if only for selfish reasons since how the world perceives us is so largely driven by what our youths do and say.

In moving forward a new mind set toward youths is needed as we see them with fresh eyes, not as problems but as potential and as partners. Not just as future leaders but with us today, in the present, in the now and fully capable of helping to create a better tomorrow. In formulating policies which will impact them, youths need to be included as not merely participants. They need to be equal partners.

Unlike Oliver Twist our youths are not willing to politely ask for more after consuming their paltry portion. They are loudly demanding a different and much more appealing meal and insisting that they help to decide on the menu. We hear this in the lyrics of their songs and see it in the wildly celebratory nature of their dances. They will be seen and heard. They will not be silenced. They want it now!!

The Caricom Youth Development Goals are being formulated in a manner which parallels the Millennium Development Goals. The latter are suffering a most inauspicious fate as targets remain just that with no real hope of being achieved. So what hope for the 9 goals for the social development of our youths by the Caricom Commission? It is projected that social protection for our youths will cost about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP). The question, however, really must be, ‘How much more will it cost if such protection is not provided?’ How many will have to suffer, how many will have to die, you tell me why? We, the older heads, as youths love to call us, continue to ignore them at our own peril.