Countries are still ignoring the role of young people in making policies despite their growing numbers globally, a youth forum heard Friday.
Delegates attending a panel discussion on youth at the ongoing United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Nairobi were told of the glaring gap between what officials decide to do and what young people need to prosper.
Panellists criticised the composition of delegations attending and discussing various issues related to trade at the UNCTAD meeting, saying there were very few young people in there.
"It doesn’t make a lot of sense to support food security or education programmes in, say, India or Africa, if the government doesn’t ensure that taxes remain in that country to support the programmes," argued Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch foreign trade and development minister.
Ms Ploumen said government officials have a duty to ensure policies for economic development create the necessary environment that benefit young people.
Kenya is hosting the UNCTAD conference, held every four years to help UN member states address the challenges facing global trade and development, especially for poor nations.
The negotiated final document is expected to be publicised Friday, but panellists at the side event argued few young people had been involved in the negotiation.
"Time has come that if the youth have to be involved in discussions on the future, trade is one of the issues," said Sicily Kariuki, Kenya's Cabinet secretary for Youth Affairs.
"I don’t recall anybody below the age of 35 being among the negotiations, yet we are saying the youth are the future. You must be part of the conversation. Your voices must be listened to but that voice must be consistent and coherent," she said.
For Africa in particular, more than half of the population is composed of people below 35 years of age. Yet governments were being accused of passing laws that exclude youth from leadership but demand them to remain responsible citizens.
"In some countries, you can be sentenced to death at the age of 18 because you are an adult. But when it comes to participation in leadership, you have to wait until you are 30," Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy on youth, told the audience.
"This is something that we need to fix," added.
As the panel discussions that had also included Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore wound up, one young man from Pakistan protested at being denied a chance to speak. He shouted at organisers, claiming he was being discriminated against “because I am from Pakistan.”
“I spent $1,500 to come here, but now I can’t speak, I can’t be allowed to talk about the issues,” he shouted as UN security agents whisked him out of the amphitheatre.
Though that was the only dark spot on the organised event, perhaps the Pakistani man symbolised the frustration among young people about being cut out of the system.
But UNCTAD14 organisers pledged to publish a document that will address issues of concern for every group.
"The views you gave here carry the same weight as all other outputs by other people. We are working very hard on this document, which is very futuristic," UNCTAD14 President Amina Mohamed said.
(Editing by Beatrice Obwocha)