Youth rights are those rights which enable young people to successfully make the transition between childhood and adulthood, to become informed, independent, autonomous, responsible and committed citizens at local, national and international levels. Ensuring young people’s access to their rights is a means of ensuring cohesive, sustainable societies and is an investment in the future of the European construction. An instrument for the implementation of youth rights should serve as a framework for modelling national youth policies and should be based on the following ten principles.
What is missing at the moment is a clear and comprehensive definition of the meaning of youth. Member states should define the age groups covered by their youth policies, which should be coherent with other legal provisions concerning young people, and as far as possible correspond to those of other European countries. A framework convention on youth rights should seek to provide common definitions to facilitate the implementation of rights and the monitoring of their implementation through statistics.
States should provide education that is universal, free and accessible. Beyond economic considerations, education should be valued as a means of self-fulfilment and of empowerment for young people. As well as equipping young people for employment, education should promote values. Education systems need to be reorganised to better correspond to rapid economic changes and the skills and sectors of the economy of the future. Moreover, educational policies should be characterised by flexibility and allow for vocational retraining and mobility.
Member states should adopt measures which enable the mobility of students in higher education and establish validation procedures for recognition of academic achievements and professional qualifications across Europe. To this end, they should promote the effective use of the European Higher Education Area, and implement the Bologna Process and other mechanisms for recognition of qualifications.
Non-formal education, intercultural learning and volunteer work should be more recognised as an integral part of young people’s qualifications. Quality vocational training should be provided as an alternative or accompaniment to university education. Young people also need to be given opportunities to gain language proficiency throughout their education, especially when their mother tongue is other than that spoken in their community.
Employment is the primary means of ensuring young people’s autonomy. Across Europe, the highest unemployment rates are among young people. Member states should take concrete measures to facilitate the entry of young people into employment (active employment policies and tax and financial incentives to encourage companies to recruit young people into agreed training programmes with on-the-job certification), thereby facilitating the transition between education establishments and the labour market and preventing the excessive use of unpaid work experience or low paid employment. Policies should aim to encourage businesses to assist young people’s transition from insecure contracts to stable jobs. National systems and bilateral agreements should ensure that gaps in social security protection systems and problems with labour market integration are identified and closed.
Young people have a right to decent, affordable housing of a quality in line with European standards, to enable them to achieve a stable environment for their development as adults and their relations with the community. The ability to become independent by leaving one’s parental home should be enabled through access to housing of an adequate standard.
Member states should ensure that higher education institutions provide affordable student lodgings, especially in areas with high rents; social housing should enable young people to live independently at the beginning of their professional career and states should insist on the implementation of percentage quotas for such housing in all regions. Secure and sustainable financial facilities should be made available to aid the granting of mortgages and loans to young individuals and families and ensure that low-interest opportunities are open to them.
Health education must be taught at all educational levels. There must also be policies in place to prevent and protect against sexually transmitted diseases, undesired pregnancies, sexual abuse or violence, alcoholism, nicotine poisoning and drug abuse. Comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education should be provided as part of the school curriculum. Member states should conduct health-awareness campaigns directed at young people about health risks and their avoidance, including practical information such as on access to treatment and guarantees of confidentiality.
Young people should also be involved in environmental policies as they are directly affected by their consequences, and are a more certain source of forward-thinking, idealistic and creative ideas concerning environmental preservation and sustainable development. Young people can serve as highly efficient multipliers of good individual and group practices.
In order for young people to understand their rights, accept the accompanying responsibilities and be given opportunities to express themselves, full and effective participation of young people in the life of society and in decision making must be encouraged from an early age. States should promote the implementation of the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and Recommendation Rec(2006)1 of the Committee of Ministers on the role of national youth councils in youth policy development. The Council of Europe’s 2010 Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education should also serve as a policy guideline for training youth leaders and member states should foster the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and youth organisations in education for democratic citizenship and human rights education.
Youth parliaments serve to emphasise the importance of developing the capacity of youth for the purpose of preparing them to assume responsibilities, to engage in dialogue, exchange ideas and introduce them to democratic processes. Young people should not, however, be relegated into youth parliamentary structures to the detriment of their participation in core decision-making procedures.
It is important that young people participate in democracy by voting. Therefore, member states should consider lowering the voting age.
Cultural policies must ensure young people’s access to cultural activities and exchanges, as well as the right to maintain their cultural and personal identity; state spending on culture should not be sacrificed during periods of economic downturn. Universities should recognise the need for students’ cultural development and cultural institutions should have the means to use modern, interactive methods of communication and awareness raising. Spaces for artistic creation need to be made available to young people for all cultural activities, including art and music.
Everyone should have the right to maintain their cultural heritage. School students speaking a minority language should be offered lessons in the language in question. Optional courses on minority language and culture should also be offered to students from the majority population.
Particular attention should be paid to ensuring the right to freedom of expression for every young person without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. Appropriate measures should be adopted in order to facilitate the access of young people to the media and, in particular, to the Internet.
Sport is an important way for young people to explore and use their physical capacities, and a potential factor of greater social cohesion and integration. Sports facilities should be provided free of charge in all regions and in both rural and urban areas. Young people must be allowed to develop their personal abilities and identities as they wish.
Member states should ensure that young people are not discriminated against because of their age, for instance in assuming political or professional responsibilities. The specific problems of young people in vulnerable population groups such as Roma, migrants and refugees, or other minority groups in society should also be addressed, as well as discrimination based on gender and nationality and homophobia, to which young people are particularly exposed.
Positive measures adopted by member states in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective implementation of youth rights, taking due account of the specific conditions of young people within society and their particular needs in relation to their age, should not be considered to be discriminatory as regards the rest of the population.
It is necessary to raise awareness of the existence and importance of youth rights by increasing, centralising and harmonising the information available to policy and decision makers and to the general public. Youth policies in member states should be disseminated through the most up-to-date communication channels, and be made available in as many languages as are necessary to ensure they are understood by all. In order for young people to be able to act in accordance with their rights, these rights should be recognised, protected and implemented.
A European framework convention on youth rights would serve as a tool for the effective implementation of national and international provisions applicable to young people. The instrument should contain a set of common indicators, based on concrete statistics for the age groups concerned in each of the above areas. It should also provide guidelines for co-operation between member states in the same areas and common goals to be attained, and regular shared stocktaking exercises should be part of the follow-up to the convention. A new arrangement should be found to allow national youth parliaments or their equivalents to undertake an assessment of progress on youth rights and give further guidance on future programmes. What is needed is better recognition and implementation of the rights of young people in Europe.