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Thousands gather for UNICEF’s Adolescent and Youth Forum in Kazakhstan

© UNICEF Kazakhstan/2009/Khudaibergenov
A group of young people presented their recommendations to the Minister of Education at the Adolescents and Youth Forum in Astana, Kazakhstan .

By Ravi Karkara and Sultan Khudaibergenov

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, 13 January 2010 – Over 2,500  people attended the first-ever Adolescents and Youth Forum called ‘We are the Peers of Our Country's Independence’, held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on 7 December 2009. In front of an audience including the Minister of Education and senior Government officials, young Kazakhs  spoke about issues that directly affect their lives.

"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 UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Hanaa Singer  in his opening speech. The Forum was organized by the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science and UNICEF.

Minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan Zhanseit Tuymebayev  encouraged the adolescents and young people. “You will be dealing with big tasks on the solution of which our country’s future will depend,” he said. “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.”

Listening to their peers

For six months before the Forum, a diverse group of 150 youths  elected from the country’s 16 regions  led a survey of over 2,000 peers  to identify their concerns, dreams and possible ways to solve their problems. They talked to youth from cities and villages, urban and rural areas, girls and boys, children with disabilities,and children living in orphanages.

This process was coordinated by 26 youth facilitators who conducted 70 consultations.  Young video journalists documented the entire process and produced documentaries reflecting issues of importance to adolescents in the country.

The consultations resulted in a document representing the views and recommendations of the youth. They categories fall into eight general categories: education, health services, healthy lifestyles, employment, psychosocial issues, stigma and discrimination and leisure.

© UNICEF Kazakhstan/2009/Khudaibergenov
Over 2,500 young people attended the first-ever Adolescents and Youth Forum in Astana, Kazakhstan.

“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,” said 17-year-old delegate Dana Mustafina from the North Kazakhstan region. “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.”

Fourteen-year-old Maksim Grischenko , a delegate from central Akmola Region, 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.

A commitment to child participation

“What young people have to say is not always what we as adults want to hear,” said UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Hanaa Singer.  “If we listen carefully to what they say, 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. 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.”

Later, the first  UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador in Kazakhstan, musical artist Batyrkhan Shukenov  addressed the Forum, saying: “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.”

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.

Participation is a fundamental human right enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirms children as rights holders entitled to expression and involvement in decisions that affect them.



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