An Open Letter to the Minister of Youth Affairs : National Youth Policy
National Youth Policy – Requesting Your Immediate Intervention
The release of the Sri Lankan Government’s National Youth Policy was looked forward to with great expectations over the past few years by concerned citizens of this country. Indeed we wish to thank the Ministry of Youth Affairs for taking the effort to formulate a policy aimed specifically at the youth of Sri Lanka. We, the undersigned, had much hopes for a policy which we hoped would;
- Specifically identify the issues that young people in Sri Lanka face and outline the Government’s approach as to how they could be addressed.
- Recognize the role of youth in not only addressing their own problems but also the larger contribution that they can make towards the country’s development.
Considering the importance of a national policy concerning a very important section of the community, in this case the youth of this country, we wish to communicate our disappointment that neither of our expectations referred to above has been met by the Draft National Youth Policy. Having perused the draft policy in its entirety we feel that there has been a lack of seriousness and commitment towards the project on the part of the Ministry and the drafting committee.
We wish to bring to your kind notice the following key issues:
1. Content related issues – Effect of Plagiarism
As has already been highlighted in the print media this Draft is an extremely close copy of the National Youth Policy of South Africa formulated by The National Youth Commission of the Republic of South Africa in 1997. While acknowledging the value of engaging in comparative research and making use of such in the drafting of the policy, an identical copy of a policy drafted in a completely different context being incorporated wholly for the purpose of a Sri Lankan National Youth Policy, cannot be acceptable or justified.
Lack of space does not permit us to deal in detail with how this plagiarism affects the objectives of the policy. We would like to highlight just one based on a presentation made by the convener of the drafting committee at a recent gathering, as an example in this regard. According to the convener of the Drafting Committee the “core-issue” faced by youth in Sri Lanka as identified in the National Youth Policy is “gangsterism”. While gangsterism maybe a major issue in certain other countries (and it is in fact a major issue in South Africa!) it is not necessarily serious enough to be tagged as the ‘core issue’ faced by young people in Sri Lanka. Thus in terms of issue identification the plagiarism has had a serious negative effect in identifying the specific and unique issues that Sri Lankan young people face. Even where the issues identified are relevant there has been no attempt to discuss the specific relevancy of the issue identified to Sri Lankan youth.
It is rather surprising that no references have been made to already existing policy formulations on issues that affect young people such as National Youth Employment Action Plan and the National Adolescent Health Policy.
We find it shocking that the policy does not make any reference to the two insurgencies that took place in the South and the protracted war in the North and East of the country, in which young people have been involved the most and affected the worst both as perpetrators and victims. The approach the policy could have taken is by acknowledging that young people resorted to violence, partly due to the fact that there was no policy on the part of successive governments to provide young people with access or participation in the mainstream decision and policy making processes of the country. This has not been the case. The contextual analysis of issues in the document is by no means ‘Sri Lankan’ specific.
The policy in language and content takes a ‘sympathetic’ and ‘patronizing’ approach to young people. They are looked upon as a group who need to be ‘protected’ and ‘safeguarded’; as a ‘problematic’ group rather than as capable of playing a role in the main stream development of the country. Therefore, there is nothing significant in the policy about young people’s participation in the proposed mechanisms for implementing the policy such as the National Youth Commission.
2. Process related issues
In relation to the content related issues that we have identified, we also wish to raise our concern with regard to the process involved in formulating this Policy. In drafting any policy it is imperative that there be a well communicated and coordinated consultation amongst the different stakeholders to the issue. We consider that the following is relevant with regard to the process of drafting this policy.
Although the proposal makes mention of the consultation done with young people in formulating this policy, having regard to the content we doubt whether there have been any significant input into the policy from such consultations. We suspect that the consultations held were tokenistic, given the serious misplacement as with regards to issue identification in the policy. We would like to request the Ministry to release and appropriately review the reports on the youth hearings and consultative workshops in which, the policy claims, more than 3500 young people took part from all parts of the country.
We also wish to make note that having a proper consultation with the youth representatives and organisations by the committee from the formulation phase, would have increased the chances of young people having their voices represented in the policy.
3. What should be in an ideal youth policy?
We feel that the National Youth Policy of our country should reflect the following:
- Clear and specific identification of issues faced by young people in Sri Lanka.
- Drafting the policy in a manner which allows for the policy to be used as ‘an evolving document’.
- Institutional and programme related responses to address the issues identified with participation of young people in such responses.
- Creation of mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the policy with youth participation.
- A national youth policy whose language is not ‘paternalising’ and ‘sympathetic’ to young people but one which will create a sense of ownership among the youth towards the policy.
We hope that you would be open and responsive to these concerns as they have a bearing on the standing and integrity of the whole process, apart from the responsibility and the approach of the government on the same. Taking these factors into account, we would like to request you to call for a review and a redrafting of this Policy in your capacity as the Minister of Youth Affairs. We would be more than willing to further explain our stand on this matter, if needed and also contribute to a process aiming at genuinely rectifying the problem at hand. We sincerely hope that you will make public your stance with regard to this issue within two weeks time.
Let us work towards a “dignified youth community for the 21st century”, in a meaningful way.
Signed by concerned young people representing Beyond Borders, Sri Lanka Youth Parliament, Youth Forum – 8th ICAAP, Law & Society Trust, Rotaract Club of Colombo-North, Voice of Youth, Serendib Institute of Research and Development
 Available online at http://www.polity.org.za/polity/govdocs/policy/intro.html
 Consultation on SRH and the Draft National Youth Policy organized by the Family Planning Association held on the 21st of June 2006 at the BMICH
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