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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Young people tackle social problems at children’s conference in Syria

UNICEF Image: Syria, International Conference on Children and Youth in Middle East and North African Cities
© UNICEF Syria/2009/Krzysiek
Mariam, 17, takes notes at a workshop during the Fifth International Conference on Children and Youth in Middle East and North African Cities.

By Pawel Krzysiek

ALEPPO, Syria, 24 July 2009 – Hiba, 15, calmly scanned the faces of a large audience gathered in Aleppo’s Sheraton Hotel, expressing her conclusions with a striking level of self-confidence and maturity.

“We came here to raise our voice," she said afterwards. "We waited a long time for this moment and, believe me, we came well prepared."

The Fifth International Conference on Children and Youth in Middle East and North Africa Cities brought together more than 100 adolescents here earlier this month. Encouraging young people to participate in society is a key element of the UNICEF Adolescents Development and Participation (ADAP) programme.

Young people have their say

“Our goal was to reach the highest level of youth participation through direct interactions with the country's decision-makers," said ADAP Programme Officer Mohamed Kanawati. “We are here to ensure that adolescents have their say.”

The Aleppo conference, held by the Arab Urban Development Institute, gave Syrian young people a chance to voice their concerns directly to top-level government officials. “We want our voice to reach the government and the government to reach us," said Sarin, 17.

"The idea is clear: Youth problems in Syria are equally urgent whether you are from Deir Ezzour, Latakia or the Palestinian camp in Neirab,” said Firas Shehabi, the Adolescent Project Manager at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

A chance to discuss

Adolescents at the conference raised important issues related to education, the labour market and the role of the state in dealing with young people. Among the topics they discussed were:

  • Employment and unemployment among young people
  • Vocational training and skills required by the labour market
  • The transition from school to work
  • Gender issues
  • Social barriers and other obstacles affecting vulnerable urban youth
  • Activation of youth-oriented programs and policies in the region’s municipalities.
UNICEF Image: Syrian Arab Republic, International Conference on Children and Youth in Middle East and North African Cities
© UNICEF Syria/2009/Krzysiek
Yousef, 15, makes his point at the final session with decision makers at the youth conference in Syria.

With the support of focus group facilitators from UNICEF, the Youth Union, the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs and UNRWA, the discussions touched upon sensitive aspects of Syrian society.

"We live in the culture of bans, imperatives and intimidation: ‘Don't go out, don’t be late, study hard to find a good job’ and, more importantly, ‘get married like your sisters!’ What about our development, the right to choose our future, the need to grow up when all that we desire is forbidden?" asked Hiba.

"There is no doubt social pressure is the main source of youth problems in Arab cultures," said Lina Yunis, the facilitator from the Youth Union, which works with UNICEF in ADAP activities. “Our responsibility, as youth institutions, is to assure the adolescents that they are an important part of the country's development,” she added.

Reaching policy-makers

UNICEF actively supports a network of youth service providers such as the Youth Union, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and UNRWA, in the development of new strategies for youth development and participation.

“Through an ‘evidence-based’ strategy, we aim to reach and influence the potential youth policy-makers," said Mr. Kanawati of UNICEF. “We aim to develop new services in working with adolescents and to spread a culture of participation.”

Syrian adolescents are seizing the opportunity to push their vision of where the country should go.

“I expect to solve the problems that we addressed and implement the solutions that we discussed,” said Amani, 15. “I expect understanding, space for my ideas and mutual respect from the adults dealing with us.”



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