The following report analyzes the state of youth civic engagement in East Asia and the Pacific, including the challenges and support available for programming in this area. It presents a list of recommendations to further develop youth civic engagement in the region. The report is based on information obtained through questionnaires, youth focus groups and desk-based research administered and conducted by Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) on behalf of UNICEF EAPRO, with the support of national and international partners.
While there are numerous factors influencing youth civic engagement in each country in the region, critical success factors include good governance and a drive for democracy, as well as independent and organized civil societies. When these factors are present, youth civic engagement programs often empower young people to make positive contributions to their societies and to change their own lives in the process. The patterns that emerge when countries in the region are grouped according to the characteristics of their governments and civil societies highlight the importance of these factors. For example, in countries like China, Lao PDR and Vietnam that have strong states and weak civil societies, Communist youth organizations often run successful, large-scale youth service projects that meet critical community and national needs. However, these organizations are often hierarchical and adult-run, with little room for young people to take on leadership roles. They also tend to focus on non-politically sensitive issues. On the other hand, in countries such as the Philippines and Thailand that have democratizing states and strong civil societies, diverse types of youth civic engagement, including participation in governance, media, social entrepreneurship, and advocacy and campaigning, are promoted by a wide variety of institutions, including the government and youth-initiated and -led organizations. However, some of these initiatives may lack funding, coordination and follow-through.
The overarching recommendation for UNICEF and other stakeholders to further support youth civic engagement in East Asia and the Pacific is to promote the development of a continuum of opportunities (with the necessary skills for effective participation) to enable the broadest possible range of young people to participate based on their individual and collective interests, needs, and development stages. In addition, these opportunities should be empowering, supporting real youth participation and skill-building as opposed to meeting the goals and needs of particular interest groups. Closer integration among government policies, resources and bottom-up initiatives is necessary to successfully develop these kinds of transformative programs.
This report makes ten recommendations to further support youth civic engagement in the region:
A. Build knowledge and change perceptions about youth civic engagement
1. Support and disseminate research on the impact of youth civic engagement
2. Conduct country-level mapping exercises
3. Develop case studies of different types of youth civic engagement
B. Strengthen capacities and opportunities for youth civic engagement
4. Incorporate mechanisms for youth civic engagement into government policies and programs
5. Build the capacity of young people and adults to engage in effective dialogue and partnerships around youth civic engagement
6. Promote service-learning in schools
7. Support peer education
8. Strengthen youth civic engagement programming among institutions of higher education
9. Support a small grants program for youth initiatives
10. Consider supporting a regional volunteer scheme
The report also recommends that UNICEF focus its efforts to support youth civic engagement in the Pacific Island Countries, Timor-Leste, Cambodia and Mongolia. In these countries, there is an urgent need to foster young people's civic engagement. There are also opportunities to create effective and large-scale programs without very large investments. Moreover, the governments of these countries are likely to be open to new approaches to youth development, and there are limited existing initiatives in this arena.