Over 100 youth from around Nuku’alofa, gathered on August 12 to celebrate International Youth Day in the country’s capital with a day-long activities, including panel discussions on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), art activities, and a visit to Parliament. In Tonga, youth make up an increasingly large proportion of the population. According to the 2011 Census, 19 percent of Tonga’s population were between the ages of 15 to 24. Using the local definition of youth, 15 to 29 years-old, in 2015, at least 30 percent of the population are youth.
Commemorating International Youth Day in Tonga was a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Tonga Governance Strengthening Programme (TGSP), the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, the Ministry of Finance, youth NGOs, and civil society organizations. TGSP is implemented by UNDP and supported by the Australian Government.
Attending the opening included guest speaker, Lord Tu’ivakano, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, HE Brett Aldam, Australia’s High Commissioner to Tonga, Lord Fusitu’a, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Standing Committee on Anti-Corruption, and Tatafu Moeaki, CEO, Ministry of Finance and National Planning.
“It is important that we as a nation focus on youth development. We need to increase the opportunities available to young people for full, effective and constructive participation in society,” said Lord Tu’ivakano.
Actively including youth in discussions of democratic transparency and engagement is crucial to ensuring a strong and resilient democracy in Tonga. Using this year’s International Youth Day theme,Youth Civic Engagement, youth participated along with a panel of experts in three discussions focused on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Goals 1, 5, and 16 related to poverty, gender equality, and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, respectively. The panel discussion gave youth a public forum to discuss and debate issues of relevance and importance along with representatives of Parliament, members of CSOs, and public officials.
“Government including Parliament should provide space where youth can debate matters of national and international concern, where youth can actively participate in civic activities particularly Parliament and assist them to be involved in decision-making,” said Lord Tu’ivakano.
“International Youth Day was an important opportunity for Tongan youth to demonstrate during the panel discussions that they have a shared interest and ability in helping address the SDGs,” said Douglas Armour, TGSP Coordinator.
“We’ll collaborate with UNDP to gather the panel discussion conclusions, and then hold more consultations with youth groups before finalizing a document on youth perspectives on the SDGs and other issues. This will be shared with decision-makers, and we hope they’ll take our views into consideration when making decisions affecting youth,” said Joshua Savieti, Director for ICON Creative Tonga.
The International Youth Day activity demonstrated UNDP’s commitment to engage youth in Parliament and other activities aimed at promoting good governance and inclusive and transparent democratic institutions.