Statement by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia on International Youth Day
Mogadishu – The theme of this year’s “International Youth Day” is “Youth and mental health”. There are only few countries in which mental health is as important a topic as in Somalia. Many Somali youth have grown up in a country where violence and crime were the order of the day. Many of them were forced to join armed groups or joined these groups deliberately as they did not see another way to make ends meet. Others grew up as living in the streets or lost their parents to the conflict.
Such an experience would be overwhelming in any environment, but it is even more difficult in a country where the issue of mental health is not prioritised and mental health services are minimal. Too often, owing to neglect and irrational fear, persons with mental health conditions are marginalized not only from having a role in the design and implementation of development policies and programmes but even from basic care. This leaves them more vulnerable to poverty, violence and social exclusion, and has a negative impact on society as a whole.
Despite all these challenges, Somali youth also show a great sense of optimism when it comes to the future of their country. They want opportunities to go to school and join the work force. They want to be heard and participate in politics and in rebuilding their nation. They want to shape their own future. If given a chance, youth have the potential to become drivers for peace and stability.
Today, as we mark International Youth Day 2014, we must be clear that what we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift in policies and attitudes towards the role of youth in order to empower and place them at the core of the development agenda. First signs of progress in this direction can already be seen: the Federal Government of Somalia is currently developing a comprehensive national youth policy, while Somaliland and Puntland ratified youth policies in 2011. During his recent visit to the United States, H.E. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced several new initiatives for young people, reaching from empowerment and education to political participation. The Somali Compact endorsed in September 2013 is another step in the right direction with all five Peace and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) explicitly addressing youth.
With these initiatives the groundwork has been done. The UN will support the Somali Authorities through two key initiatives that are currently under way: a comprehensive strategy on youth and joint programming on youth employment.
Now it is time to translate plans into actions. Young people are the ones who will inherit Somalia and they want to take part in shaping their future. The least we can do is reserve them a seat at the table.