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Youth on Sidelines While Politicians Decide How They Will Live

June 11, 1996

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ In their home countries, young people often have little say in shaping government policies. And at a U.N. conference on cities, they are also being kept on the sidelines.

Enthusiastic youth have been frustrated since the summit started last week, watching middle-aged politicians make decisions that will affect their lives in the next century.

``We’re part of society and we have a right to participate as well,″ said Alejandro Mauricio Irineo Fernandez, 24, of a Mexican grass-roots group called Urban Courage that puts gangs to work recycling garbage.

His comment that politicians are only interested in young people when they need soldiers or voters drew loud applause at a youth forum Monday.

UNICEF says the urban crisis is a children’s crisis. Six out of 10 children in the developing world will be born in cities by the year 2025 if trends continue.

But young people helped draft only one paragraph in the 113-page conference agenda that calls for youth concerns to be part of policymaking. The document also calls for government training and employment programs and the elimination of sexual and economic exploitation of youngsters.

``How can you develop healthy cities for everybody if 50 percent of the people never have a say?″ UNICEF spokeswoman Janet Nelson asked. ``You need to have a mechanism built into decision-making ... to give children and youth a voice.″

``Even economically, it pays off to have them be part of the process, not alienated from it,″ she said. ``You reduce juvenile crime and teenage pregnancies.″

The only elected official at the forum agreed.

``I think between national and local authorities, there is a lack of dialogue with young people,″ said Mamadou Diop, mayor of Dakar, Senegal.

He described how in 1990 he got millions of youngsters to help clean up his dirty city. Some young people have since become garbage collectors, and others have been rehabilitating rundown neighborhoods.

Some youth groups also have developed innovative programs.

The Kenya Scouts Association has turned 300 street children into scouts, and raised money to send some of them to school. The Swiss-based International Association of Agriculture Students has sent 40 students from 10 countries to a village near Accra, Ghana to provide toilets and teach villagers to diversify crops and start poultry and egg production.

Turkey’s former minister of culture, Talat Sait Halman said he hoped an alternative ``Youth-Nited Nations″ could be created to keep their dynamic vision in the global spotlight.

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