27 February 2015: "We have come to break from the past by having a declaration that speaks to the future." With these words, Kenyan Ambassador Macharia Kamau opened the second session of post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations in New York last week.
These monthly negotiations between government representatives at the UN in New York are the final stage of the global conversations to define the next global framework for sustainable development.
For this session, UN country representatives met to discuss the content of the declaration that will introduce the Sustainable Development framework to the world. And while member states may differ for now on the specific topics they'd like to see covered in this historic text, all seem to agree that it should be a bold and ambitious call to action that sets out the collective vision for the road to sustainable development by 2030.
Children scarcely mentioned
In the discussion document* produced by those running the session, children and young people were scarcely mentioned, neither as the rising generation that will inherit the sustainable development agenda for better or worse, nor as active and vital participants for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Aside from the few hours when civil society and other stakeholders were given the floor, the needs and contributions of younger stakeholders were largely neglected in member state discussions, with just a few exceptions.
A strong statement from the Netherlands* was one notable exception. Dutch representative Peter van der Vliet explained that he recently found his 13-year-old daughter working on a homework assignment on the SDGs using a child-friendly version of the goals and targets.
"I was impressed to see how all 17 goals were presented in language that 13 year olds can easily understand, both in words and drawings," he said.
No laughing matter
He went on to suggest in 2 separate statements that young people be involved in drafting the declaration to ensure that the language is understandable and has broad appeal. Each suggestion elicited laughter from some in the audience.
For Plan, active and meaningful participation of young people in designing and implementing the SDGs is not a funny or cute ideal. We see it as the smart and right thing to do.
Taking into account the global demographic reality, recognising the right of children to have a say in the decisions that affect them, and welcoming the innovative ideas and talents young people have to offer, we see their engagement as essential for building an inclusive, rights-based framework - and for holding all actors to account for their commitments.
Young voices essential in SDGs
Based on our experience in child-centered community development, we have argued that young people will be an essential voice within post-2015 accountability processes at all levels.
"Young people's engagement is important now, while they are still 'young', but as the timeframe for the SDGs elapses, today's young people can develop into tomorrow's active and engaged adults who continue to work for the achievement of the goals, and pass on their valuable experience and knowledge to upcoming generations" (Walker et al. 2014, p. 24) .
We applaud the Netherlands' suggestion to include young people in drafting the declaration, as well as all other components of the SDG report.
Furthermore, we call on governments to remember that the success of the sustainable development agenda depends on the active engagement of today's children, adolescents, and young people, whom we will count on to drive it forward.
It's difficult to imagine writing a truly visionary post-2015 declaration without them.
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