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Aspiring to full participation

Aspiring to full participation

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Members of the Youth Council of Cambodia attend a political workshop at the National Assembly last week. Young people are the key to a flourishing democracy in Cambodia, Douglas Broderick says.

Investment in Cambodia’s younger generations is crucial for the development of the country and maintenance of its spirit.

DEMOCRATIC participation is a human right. All women and men, all girls and boys, of all backgrounds and ages, should be allowed to participate in the governance of their country.

This is set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to take part in their country’s government and that the will of the people should be expressed in periodic free and fair elections.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and, therefore, everyone in Cambodia is entitled to the rights set out in the Declaration, including young adults.

Even before young people reach voting age, these rights apply to all youths and children equally. They should be encouraged to express their views and be heard in decisions affecting their lives. This is a principle set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Cambodia has ratified. It is society’s duty to prepare children and youths to be informed citizens who can take part in all aspects of social and political life.

Youth participation is more relevant than ever before in Cambodia, where one-third of the population is aged between10 and 24. As the next generation of adults, it is crucial that these young people are equipped to express themselves, vote, take an interest in politics and actively participate in the governance of their country.

Cambodian youths are already politically active and engage in media campaigns, seek interaction with political leaders, and organise and participate in public forums.

The new deconcentration and decentralisation framework, bringing governance decision-making to the local level, is opening up new and systematic opportunities for the participation of youths and marginalised groups in the governance of their country.

Significant challenges remain, however. Recent statistics show that young adults are the group least likely to vote, and, in general, the rules of Khmer society organise relationships hierarchically. Age, gender, ethnicity, wealth, political position and religious piety all play a part in determining one’s place. This hierarchy can often be further compounded by the perception of young people as “less experienced”, which can potentially impede their meaningful participation and limit opportunities for them to articulate their views.

It is very important that these cultural barriers to participation are examined, debated and challenged by Cambodians in this new era, and that the contributions of young people are appreciated and valued.

Cambodians of all ages need to continue working together for and with young people so that this generation will carry forward the ideas of rights and equality that must never be taken for granted.

It will be through the stewardship of all Cambodians that these can become a part of everyday life and the birthright of every citizen.

The UN in Cambodia has made the future of Cambodia’s youth our priority. The UN is working with the Royal Government of Cambodia to develop a national youth policy to ensure that Cambodia’s young people have a bright and sustainable future and enjoy the rights to which they are entitled through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights affect everyone and every sphere of life. They are the foundation of a peaceful society, allowing all citizens to participate fully. When everyone can speak their mind, when everyone can help to choose their leaders, when everyone can take part in events and contribute to planning, society as a whole will benefit.

Douglas Broderick is the resident coordinator of the United Nations in Cambodia.

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