When young people lead, and adults follow!

“Who is digital education for? Is it only for people who have all the facilities available in their homes and have parents who are educated and able to support them?”

UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia
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UNICEF/UNI45120/Thomas
04 February 2022

It was a warm October afternoon, summer slowly giving way to winter, with light but ill-timed rain falling outside our windows. Our teams were frenziedly working behind the scenes, hosting a conversation with young people from across South Asia with the support of 6 language and sign language interpreters. Some of us were volunteering to be moderators, coordinators, and timekeepers, but most importantly holding on tight to our pens and papers to take notes as young people talked about how challenging remote learning had been for them. That’s when Simran Uikey from India raised a question:

“Who is digital education for? Is it only for people who have all the facilities available in their homes and have parents who are educated and able to support them?”

“I’m a so-called special student with special needs. I am blind and the system is not ready for me,” Zaaya from the Maldives then added.

Youth meeting - screenshot
UNICEF ROSA/2021

Their points could not have been more relevant. The equity gap in South Asia was already stark before the pandemic struck. Now, the most vulnerable girls and boys are being left behind like never before. Many of them have missed on months of learning, on lifesaving healthcare, on nutritious food. Others have been pushed into child labour or child marriage.

The experiences and insights shared by the nearly 500 young people we consulted were used to create a statement and list of recommendations – with a strong call to action from youth to decision-makers.

Youth Statement - Our future, our rights, our voices
UNICEF ROSA/2021

At our high-level regional event in Kathmandu to commemorate UNICEF’s 75 years of tireless work for children, the young people presented their statement to George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia.

We - the adolescents and young people of South Asia - have dreams and hopes of a better world... Volume Up
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UNICEF/UN0564991

By this time Omicron cases started surfacing in South Asia, so not all the youth, government and UNICEF representatives could join us in person for the event. But we never give up. So, we made sure that the youth statement was also handed over by young people to UNICEF Representatives in all countries in South Asia, including Afghanistan, while following COVID-19 safety measures.

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UNICEF/UN0564983

Ministers, dignitaries and representatives from South Asia joined us in person and through pre-recorded videos at the event and acknowledged UNICEF’s work over the past 75 years.

“The story of UNICEF is the story of our children,” said HE Dasho Dechen Wangmo, Ministry of Health, Bhutan, as she renewed her government’s commitments to children.

Even more importantly, they felt moved by the drive and dedication of the youth representatives and made strong commitments to support their vision.

 “The more we invest in children and youth, the more prosperous our region will become,” said Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary General, The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

“To the children of Nepal: we will spare no effort to meet your needs and make sure no child is left behind,” concluded, Mr. Bharat Raj Paudyal, Secretary, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal.

UNICEF 75 Regional Event at SAARC
UNICEF ROSA/2021
UNICEF 75 Regional Event at SAARC
UNICEF ROSA/2021

“Let us reimagine the opportunities we can offer to the millions of girls and boys who simply have none. Let’s work together to make that dream a reality,” said George Laryea-Adjei as he launched UNICEF’s roadmap for Reigniting Opportunities for children in South Asia at the event.

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UNICEF/UN0523669/Monir

As we wrapped up the commemorations, Eliane Luthi, Regional Chief of Communication, sat down with the youth representatives, and asked them about their dreams and vision for South Asia. And this is what they had to share.

Youth Statement - Our future, our rights, our voices