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National Adolescents and Youth Forum held in Kazakhstan

© UNICEF Kazakhstan / 2009
Young delegates at the Youth Forum in Almaty.

by Ravi Karkara and Sultan Khudaibergenov

"Bottom up" process

"No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth", said in an opening speech UNICEF Representative Hanaa Singer addressing over 2,500 young people at the first ever Adolescents and Youth Forum We are the Peers of Our Country's Independence that was held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 7th December 2009.

UNICEF joined hands with the Kazakh Government to celebrate the 18th anniversary of independence and the passage of the first generation of independent Kazakh citizens in an innovative way by timing the Forum to coincide with the national holiday.

Over 150 adolescents and youths democratically elected from the country's all 16 regions representing diverse background, gender and social status gathered for the Forum. It was preceded by a six-month "bottom up" consultative process surveying over 2,000 children, adolescents and youth across Kazakhstan - from cities and villages, from urban and rural areas, girls and boys, children with disabilities, children living in orphanages, in the age groups of 10-24 - to identify their issues of concern, dreams and possible ways to solve their problems. This process was facilitated by 26 very talented and committed youth facilitators that conducted 70 consultations with hundreds of their peers. The youth facilitators were trained by UNICEF. In addition, UNICEF trained young video journalists (VJs) who have effectively and creatively documented the entire process and produced documentaries reflecting burning issues of adolescents in the country.

Issues of concern

The consultations resulted in an outcome document representing the views, opinions and recommendations of adolescent and youth priorities. The recommendations made by the representatives of the young people were on prioritised eight issues that they identified in the regional consultations. They are education, health services, healthy lifestyles, employment, psychosocial issues, stigma and discrimination and leisure.

The eight topics were presented to the audience by the delegates. "We know that adolescents and young people with special needs want to be useful for society and there are not always conditions for their engagement. That is why relevant conditions for this strata of society should be created so that they could be fully engaged in social life and work," said 17-year-old delegate Dana Mustafina from North Kazakhstan Region.

A delegate from central Akmola Region, 14-year-old Maksim Grischenko, touched upon the issue of social and psychological support for youth. "We suggest opening a network of youth centres throughout the country which would conduct consultations with adolescents who have their problems. The youth centres could be popularized through social Internet networks," said Maksim.

© UNICEF Kazakhstan / 2009
UNICEF Representative Hanaa Singer addresses the young people during the Youth Forum.

The generation on which the country’s future will depend

Minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan Zhanseit Tuymebayev encouraged the adolescents and young people and said “You will be living in this county. You will be dealing with big tasks on the solution of which our country’s future will depend. Your knowledge and success is the guarantee for our state’s prosperity. You are the young generation which has to change life for better with your knowledge.”

UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Hanaa Singer in her opening remarks said: “What children and young people have to say is important, it is relevant, it is new and stimulating.  But what young people have to say is not always what we as adults want to hear! If we listen carefully to what they say – we will hear that there are issues and problems that need to be addressed: problems in families, with parents, with friends, issues in schools, in clinics, in communities…   If we listen, we may hear about how some parents cruelly punish their children, about teachers who are too rough towards their pupils, about young boys and girls who feel excluded from society, who are frustrated about not finding jobs, we will hear about alcohol and drugs and lifestyles.”
Hanaa Singer said that it takes courage to listen to young people but it takes even more courage to really hear them, to really understand what young people want and need. “And it takes even more courage and leadership to take action. But it is only with young people - with their energy and intelligence, their enthusiasm and commitment -- that we will find the solutions to the issues and problems that matter in their lives. And together with young people we will be able to create better societies and a better tomorrow!” said the UNICEF Representative.

The Forum greeted with thunderous applause first UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador in Kazakhstan musical artist Batyrkhan Shukenov, who told addressed the Forum. “I know that you all came from the country’s different regions where you have done great preparatory work for the Forum. I can say that each of you acts a goodwill ambassador of your region, and the opinion of each of you is very important to us.”

Kazakhstan’s commitment to child participation

As Kazakhstan will takes the chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this 1st Adolescents and Youth Forum becomes even more significant. By listening to young people, Kazakhstan is joining many European and other countries that have already taken actions and made participation of young people an integral part in the development of programmes and policies on all issues that affect children and young people. Kazakhstan’s experience in starting the process of listening to young citizens and taking their opinion in decision making can certainly serve as a model for other countries to follow - in Central Asia and in the Region. Participation is a fundamental human right, which affirms children as rights holders entitled to demand their own rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children’s participation as the rights to expression, information, involvement in decisions, and association (among others).

The Forum was organized by the Kazakh Education and Science Ministry and UNICEF in cooperation with the Kazakh National Healthy Lifestyle Centre, the Gumilev Eurasian National University and the Kazakhstan Youth Congress and was attended by over 2,500 students of Astana, government officials, representatives of civil society and media. This process will generate further concrete and specific actions and involvement of adolescents and youth in policies and actions that affect their lives. 

For additional information, please contact:

Sultan Khudaibergenov and Gulzhazira Zhumash
Communication Dept - UNICEF Kazakhstan
Telephone: (7172) 326 206, 32 28 64 (ext. 112, 123)

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