Youth ministers met on 9 April to agree priorities for young people at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda.
Members of the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Task Force joined Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, Secretariat’s policy experts and youth delegates to review progress on youth development priorities and offer advice on CHOGM policy outcomes affecting youth.
Young people, those under the age of 30, make up 60 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population. They are bearing the economic and social burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing one in six young people out of work around the world. Meanwhile, the education of some 1.6 billion children has been disrupted.
Delivering the welcome remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “There is no doubt that challenges are significant but the resilience, innovation and creativity of young people are more than a match for this pandemic.
“The pandemic has given us opportunities to place youth mainstreaming at the heart of building back better efforts at all levels. There should not be any desire to go back to the unfulfilling pre-COVID-19 socio-economic situations which prevailed for so many of our young people.”
She added: “As youth ministers and officials, you will share my view that youth development needs to be high on the agenda when our leaders gather in Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.”
The Secretary-General shared targeted Commonwealth initiatives with ministers, which are designed to assist the 54 member countries in empowering young people, designing evidence-based policies and investing in people supporting youth.
Initiatives included the pioneering 2021 Commonwealth Youth Development Index, which measures young people’s prospects and informs policies on education, health and political participation.
A particular focus of the meeting was on the mental health impact of the pandemic on young people, which could last much longer than the physical implications.
The chairperson, Uganda’s Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, said: “This virtual meeting is timely because young people across the Commonwealth are dealing with the challenges presented by the pandemic and looking up to us for guidance.”
She added that the current health crisis worsened prospects of young people in areas such as learning, employment, social activity and mental well-being.
Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi continued: “We will have to reset the agenda and refocus… This task force meeting is an opportunity to listen, engage and shape the Commonwealth-wide youth policy.”
Youth ministers reported on the regional progress on youth development priorities and took the opportunity to pay tribute to HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The contributions of the ministers will inform the youth-related policy outcomes for CHOGM, an official biennial meeting of Commonwealth leaders.