A group of Cambodian and international civil society organisations (CSOs) co-organised a National Youth Forum 2022 to highlight the significance of youth participation as a crucial component of an inclusive and democratic society.
The CSOs said they are concerned about a lack of awareness among youths on political rights, their limited interest in or knowledge of the Kingdom’s public affairs and a low degree of involvement in all levels of government.
The forum was held on August 10 in Phnom Penh, with financial support by Transparency International Cambodia (TI), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the EU and others.
Approximately 120 participants representing CSOs, ministries, international agencies and youth groups attended and contributed to the event.
According to a joint press release, the forum brought together a diverse range of youth groups and delegates from the government, civil society, academia and international development agencies in an effort to showcase and promote young people’s participation in governance and development as well as shed light on the government’s decision-making process in Cambodia
“The one full-day event featured a range of activities, starting with a booth exhibition in which nine outstanding youth community projects focusing on education and skills, gender, health, the environment, civic engagement and community development were highlighted,” it said.
Addressing the forum, Eng Chandy – executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) and a representative of the Youth Forum organising committee – said the forum provided youth participants with an opportunity to showcase their work and interact with each other and exchange knowledge, experiences and views on civic and political issues among themselves.
She said it also served as a platform for the youth to advocate for their rights and discuss and debate policy issues, priorities and solutions with relevant stakeholders, particularly policy makers.
According to a 2019 census, people under the age of 30 account for two-thirds of the population and youths aged 15-30 make up 28 per cent. The rate of youth literacy was over 90 per cent and youths are capable, quick, smart and creative, while 70 per cent of them are engaged in economic activity.
However, TI executive director Pech Pisey said the knowledge, interest and youth participation in social affairs and politics remained limited.
“While young people make up a substantial share of the Cambodian population, available evidence has shown that they continue to encounter significant barriers [to participation] in the civic and political spheres,” he said, citing an in-depth study of woman leaders and youths conducted by TI and a survey of youths by BBC Media Action.
“These include a lack of awareness about their political rights, limited interest and knowledge about the country’s public affairs, and a low degree of involvement at all levels of government. The organisation of this Youth Forum is a response to these critical challenges.”
Pisey was of the view that some youths played an active role in volunteer work to alleviate poverty , contribute to local development, promote human rights, protect natural resources and climate change and that some youths had become leaders in various sectors – public and private – and that more youths will become leaders in the future.
“Youth participation in social affairs and politics is of vital importance in order to be attentive to the needs of the people as well as ask for solutions to the main issues of the national society, which have direct and indirect impacts on us, our family members and our communities,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that it was good for the forum to be held now as the Kingdom remains under constant external pressure due to the geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers, so youth involvement and awareness of politics must be encouraged.
However, Siphan challenged the opinion that youth participation in social affairs and politics is limited.
“I do not agree with that opinion. If we asked youths in the US, where I lived 20 years ago, the young people there have never been very interested in politics and those who are interested in politics overall – as reflected by the number of voters in the US – it is a relatively small number of people.
“However, in Cambodia, more than 80 per cent of registered voters turned out for the most recent election,” he said.