By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
On Monday, citizens will go to the polls to vote in our General Election (GE), to elect the 41 persons who will sit in the House of Representatives in our 12th T&T Republican Parliament.
Since our last GE in 2015, many of our youth would have turned 18 years and would now be eligible to vote. Too often we forget that it was only in 1976 that our Republican Constitution extended adult franchise from persons 21 years and over to include those who are 18 years and over.
In 2015, according to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), there were 1,092,279 eligible voters. 734,792 people voted but 357,487 others chose not to exercise their franchise. There was a low turnout of young voters.
Have we empowered our youth to participate in the political process? Are they engaged or are they disaffected?
On Wednesday, August 12, the world will observe the UN’s International Youth Day (IYD) on the theme: Youth Engagement for Global Action.
The theme seeks “to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.
“Enabling the engagement of youth in formal political mechanisms does increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies, and also has symbolic importance that can further contribute to restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth.
“Moreover, the vast majority of challenges humanity currently faces, such as the COVID-19 outbreak and climate change require concerted global action and the meaningful engagement and participation of young people to be addressed effectively.
“The aim of IYD 2020 is to shed light on the need to enable the engagement of youth by making local, national and global institutions more inclusive for the purpose of strengthening their capacity (and relevance) to achieve global action.”
Our youth can only engage effectively in local, regional, and global action if we create conditions/provide opportunities in T&T that will allow them to share their gifts and talents.
We should not leave it up to educational institutions to educate our youth e.g. through a social studies curriculum, about their roles and responsibilities in society/the world.
Parents, as the first educators, should be raising their awareness as part of the parenting process; and parish ministries have a role to play in this process also if we are to nurture our youth to participate effectively and efficiently in society.
Policy-makers must ensure that the voices of youth inform legislation, policies, and procedures. Where is our platform to facilitate ongoing dialogue with our youth?
As Pope Francis reminded us in 2015, we are “destined to live in community with one another and God to create and organise our communities together… we are all responsible for the development of society and social transformation. Participation is a call to engage fully and consciously in the life of a wider society. Caritas Europa advocates participation foremost as a clear option for solidarity, co-responsibility, the decision to be a constructive member of the family of God, to work for the common good.”
He said: “Participation is also about supporting others in their decision-making and their activities. We all have different gifts and talents. Empowering others to unveil their talents and do their best is both a gift and a call, which can make a real change for a better world.”
What are we doing to empower our youths in T&T, to raise their awareness not only of their rights, but also of their responsibilities?
And while we encourage our youths to exercise their franchise on Monday, we urge them to remember the words of Joseph E Capizzi, associate professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America, who said that Catholics should not limit their political involvement to voting, but to continue in their commitment and involvement with others: “We are always growing and learning in our engagement with others” (Catholic News Agency).
COVID-19 has increased the challenges that youth face, including youth unemployment in many parts of the world. This World Youth Day let us all commit, one way or the other—within our own spheres of influence, to invest in our youth.
Let us think about ways in which each of us can contribute to their development/build their capacity to be productive, innovative citizens e.g. as role models, mentors, advisers, and advocates.
We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured.”.
— Saint Óscar Romero
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee