August 12 marks International Youth Day. Today, we reflect on the evolving opportunities and challenges facing youth across the world. Children are growing up in a world where rapid globalization and technological advancements provide unparalleled creative avenues for expression and societal contribution. Many of today’s youth, however, are also exposed to war and conflict, widespread poverty and a lack of economic opportunity, and increasing limitations on essential freedoms, which pose significant threats to their futures and livelihoods.
All nations must approach these challenges with versatility, foresight, and inclusivity -- and because our youth are our future, it is imperative that we include them in our solutions. We are called on to take their voices and perspectives into account when implementing policies that affect them and integrate them into political and economic spheres so they can make meaningful contributions in their respective societies. This will help create an environment that enables today’s youth to reach their full potential, thereby building the foundation for more stable, secure, and prosperous societies.
As an intern, I have worked this summer with the Office of International Labor Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department to promote internationally recognized labor rights for youth to expand labor opportunities and social protections, including education, so that they gain the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue careers.
Today, economic limitations at home drive more than 230 million people around the world to migrate to find employment, both domestically and overseas. Last summer, when I interned at a grassroots NGO in Udaipur, India, I saw firsthand the multifaceted issues that stem from limited economic opportunity and labor migration and the impact these challenges can have on shaping the lives of youth. These obstacles, however, are not limited to India.
Many children and young adults around the world find themselves integrated in the migrant labor force. Children of migrant workers are frequently taken out of school to accompany their parents to worksites, depriving them of their right to an education.
Once at worksites, children and young adults are sometimes exposed to hazardous work environments, exploitative practices, and abusive situations. Migrant laborers may work excessively long hours in extreme conditions without access to food, water, or adequate sanitation facilities, and the sexual assault of female migrant workers is commonplace. In these environments, youth are robbed of their imagination, their creativity, and most of all, their hope.
Far too often, we see that a lack of economic opportunity, decent work, and social services for young adults at home, as well as exploitative working conditions overseas for young labor migrants, fuel grievances and sometimes radicalization. Young people in some parts of the world feel as though they have little or no path to defeat the massive unemployment, poverty, and instability in their lives, or are trapped in the informal economy, with work that allows them to survive today without building a tomorrow. In some countries, as much as 60 percent of young people are both out of school and without regular work.
In order to end the cycle of abuse, insecurity, and radicalization that stems from limited economic opportunity, as this year’s World Day Against Child Labor recognized, we must mark the importance of childhood education and remain committed to providing youth, regardless of their gender, economic background or geographic location, the opportunity to build a strong foundation of knowledge.
In addition, we must consider how to best cultivate economic, vocational, and educational opportunities for young people, particularly those in communities that are vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization to violence.
Finally, to create a fair and prosperous labor force for our young adults where they can contribute meaningfully to the development of our world, we must engage all stakeholders to protect fundamental principles and rights at work, to promote responsible business conduct, and to foster inclusive economic growth and shared prosperity.
On this day we are reminded that our youth are both beacons of hope and catalysts for change in our evolving world. In ensuring their safety, opportunity, and success, we rely on them in creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive future. As a young adult, I look forward to joining my peers and youth around the world in serving as partners of change in our global society.
Abou the Author: Annika Kastetter serves in the Office of International Labor Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on HumanRights.gov.