Timor-Leste turns attention on its youth and approves its National Youth Policy
By Bridgette See
Dili, Timor-Leste, December 2007 - In a landmark move, Timor-Leste's new government has approved the nation's first National Youth Policy and seven optional strategies for its implementation in November. This officially recognises the role of young people in nation building, and outlines how ministries and non-governmental organisations can work together to harness young people's potential.
The issue of Timor's youth became a hot topic after the political crisis in May 2006. During the chaos, boys, some as young as 12 years, and young men played very visible roles in destructive activities including house burnings, stone throwing, and even serious crimes. A 2007 short film by Max Stahl (commissioned by UNICEF) showed groups of rioting young men and boys attacking a government building. An angry 17-year-old shouts into the camera: “We are the future of the nation but the government has been silent about us. As a youth, we have a right to express ourselves.”
Although the situation has now calmed down significantly, there are still occasional reports of adolescents and young men clashing in gang fights, often with violent outcomes.
“The young people are susceptible to bribery because they are jobless," said Catholic priest Father Augustinho Soares. "They have no money… so when people pay them, they start to throw stones, so they really need education and jobs.”
The need for jobs and good education by young people and also the need to be heard are now clear to the policymakers. With one in three Timorese between 15 and 29 years old, the country cannot afford to ignore its young people anymore, thus the salience of a youth-focused policy
This is what the Youth Policy promises to do - by ensuring a cross-sectoral approach so that ministries work together to plan very specific youth-targetted programmes in areas such as agriculture, health, education, and industry. A Youth Fund that pools resources from all ministries to support youth initiatives is also part of the plan.
Yet, the recently approved Youth Policy is not a knee jerk reaction to the recent troubles. The drafting process, spearheaded by the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sports, began as early as September 2004. That is why Miguel Manitelo, the new Secretary of State, is relieved that the draft policy is now finally approved. "I am very pleased, because oftentimes we didn't know if we would get the Youth Policy approved. This policy has taken a long period of time and a lot of resources," he said.
UNICEF has been supporting the drafting process from the beginning to the point of its approval with funding, advocacy and technical advice. “We are looking at young people not just from the angle of them being a problem, but as an asset to nation building,” said Adolescent and HIV/AIDS specialist Bridget Job-Johnson. “Young people issues need to be addressed in a comprehensive way. It was clear from the recent unrest that if we don’t harness the youth energy, they would be a problem.”
Youth includes adolescents and so UNICEF will continue to work with all relevant sectors in responding to the Youth policy as is relevant to its mandate.
Studies including the 2004 Census and a UNICEF-supported youth survey indicated a high level of frustration and disenfranchisement amongst youth due to their low literacy levels, limited life opportunities and high rate of unemployment. Based on the youth survey, a secondary analysis of existing data and extensive consultations with young people, a draft policy was ready by early 2006. The document proposed the adoption of a framework for youth development that would guide all national response related to young people.
An inter-ministerial meeting scheduled in May 2006, to discuss and agree on key issues, did not take place as the country was rocked by civil unrest which many young people were involved in. To meet the need for a long-term solution to peace, the draft policy was revised and an additional strategy on peace-building or civic education was added.
The optional strategies for the Youth Policy implementation outlines six approaches: mobilising young people to serve in their communities; establishing linkages between education to future employment; raising literacy through non-formal education; paying attention to the disabled; promoting civic education and participation; providing work opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurship.
"By addressing young people's needs, we're contributing to poverty reduction in our country," said Jose Neves, policy advisor for the Secretary of State. "The policy is important not just for young people but for the whole country's development."
Although many groups including NGOs, UN agencies, and faith-based organisations have now introduced youth programmes, Neves still feels that a youth policy is crucial for a more coordinated response. "When we talk about youth issues, many institutions are still working separately from each other. In reality, we need coordination and cooperation, and this will help us to pool our resources together," he said.