Young people make up the majority of Samoa’s population but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get much of a say in the country’s affairs.
That’s the finding of the Samoan National Youth Council (S.N.Y.C) in its latest report, which found that the interest of youth is frequently disregarded and overlooked in decision-making and leadership.
Council President, Vincent Faaofo said in the report that “Youth voices - inclusive of fa’afafine, women, children and persons with disabilities, are one of the least heard voices in decision making processes”.
He says young people are ‘culturally silenced’ and excluded by the elders of their families and communities which increases their vulnerability to exploitation. Programme coordinator for the S.N.Y.C., Taimalelagi Kaisarina Salesa, said one of the key issues facing youth, particularly at a village level, is that they find it hard to engage.
“Our culture is a culture of respect, how we are brought up is that we listen to our elders, you learn from your elders,” she said. “Very little is mentioned in how we can actually engage young people, other than listening and following the elders.”
Taimalelagi said that despite youth being offered the opportunity to speak, what they say is often not valued or considered.
“It’s more like they are bombarded with questions, like they are not given the opportunity to actually voice out on how things should be implemented,” she said.
“There now needs to be a mind shift that respect is earned two ways – both ways. So if they expect the young to respect them, they need to think that they need to earn the respect of the young people as well.”
The SNYC coordinator said youth also need to be given more of a say in all sectors and boards so decisions made are inclusive of young people.
“What we really want to see is all these sectors like the water sector, the justice sector, the environment and agriculture sector all these sectors to actually have a seat on their boards or on their technical advisory groups allocated to a young person.”
She said youth are crucial to development processes as they are the future generation who will carry the country going forward.
Despite the Government’s efforts to consult more with young people in recent years, Taimalelagi said policies developed often have little recognition of youth.
She said people aged 0-to-30 years make up over 64 percent of Samoa’s total population and parliament needs to be more reflective of this.
“I don’t see anyone within our definition of youth in parliament - so between the ages of 18 and 35-years. I mean the age group I’m seeing is 45 upwards, so there’s just no youth representation.”
“I think it needs to be diverse, mixing our existing leadership, young people, people with disabilities; we need all the marginalized groups adequately represented within government spaces and within parliament.”
Former Manu Samoa player and lawyer Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu said Parliament needs younger people, especially young women and fa’afafine."
“Whether majority or minority the youth are the absolute future of Samoa. Involve youth early, empower youth early, educate and inform early. We can help and guide them rather than hoping they get it right when we die,” said Fuimaono-Sapolu.
Lower the voting age
Both Taimalelagi and Fuimaono-Sapolu believe the voting age should be lowered from 21-years to 18-years.
“We already have young couples at 14, 15, 16, 19 years old who have families already. And when we apply for a drivers license the minimum age is 17, youth delinquency is also at 17. These are the ages young people are starting to mature into their mental capacity and leadership capacity as well,” said Taimalelagi.
Fuimaono-Sapolu said people opposed to lowering the voting age are trying to protect their positions.
“Lowering the voting age shifts power. It increases the power of youth. In effect it threatens the established old men in parliament,” he said.
Taimalelagi said many young people are already active citizens.
“Instead of them waiting till they turn 21, you know they’re already going through life already. If they’re already off having families, working part time or trying to set up businesses, they are already active citizens,” she said.
The S.N.Y.C. coordinator said however that there needs to be more mentoring of younger people into decision making positions.
Fuimaono-Sapolu said it’s about the inclusion of youth in the process as well as empowering young leaders for the future.
“It is time that Parliament embrace youth and show it through inclusive, protective, legislation,” he said.
“We are living in a time where Samoa youth and Samoan elderly need each other even more as we reconcile technological advancements only understandable to the youthful mind with the humanitarian Fa’asamoa concepts best understood by our elders.”