Pomp and pageantry marked the official opening ceremony of an International Youth Crime Prevention and Cities Summit in this east coast South African city Wednesday.
The meeting opened in with strong calls for young people to stand firm against violence and on governments to invest more in youth friendly policies.
“Enough is enough. We must send a message to criminal gangs that we are going to stand up to them so that the youth are not misused,” said Mr. J.S. Ndebele, Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, the host province.
The Premier said that the recent spates of anti-foreigner violence in South Africa and trouble earlier in the year in Kenya had taught the political leadership that they needed to take a strong stand against the perpetrators of violence who exploited young people as their foot soldiers.
After a disputed December 2007 polls, protests in Kenya turned violent with orgies of killings, rape and looting which led to the deaths of over 1,000 people and more than half a million people fleeing their homes.
The Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Government, Mr. Musalia Mudavadi called for heavier pro-youth investments which would translate into better livelihoods for young people.
“It was the youth who were killed, injured and later arrested while the politicians who might have been party to the incitement are still free,” he said. Referring to the recent South African violence against foreigners, Mr. N. Ntombela, the chairperson of the KwaZulu Natal Provincial Youth Commission called it simple hooliganism “wrongly” branded as “Africa-phobia”.
The 17- 21 June meeting expected to draw some 600 participants drawn from around the world. The Summit was organized taking into cognizance the fact that the international community accepts that youth have a critical role to play in designing safer communities and well designed responses must include proactive strategies that address crime and violence. Poverty, unemployment and instability are inextricably linked to crime and violence. Disadvantaged youth all over the world are more vulnerable to criminal networks. Faced by the challenges of daily survival, the lure of the quick rewards offered by crime is very tempting. If development strategies do not take this into account, sustainable development will not be a reality.
This was why, UN-HABITAT Deputy Executive Director, Ambassador Inga Björk-Klevby, said in a keynote address that young people must be participants in establishing better communities. She stressed the organisation’s commitment to working with youth-focused groups and authorities to give young people a better chance in life.
“I encourage governments to formulate and adopt integrated local policies that address youth concerns, and to support the creation of local youth partnership bodies so that young people become involved in decision-making and implementation at the local level through youth action,” she said. “UN-HABITAT is fully committed to promoting youth initiatives in human settlements development, but we cannot do it alone. We have to join forces in this endeavour.”
The Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, Mr. Wilfried Lemke said that for a prosperous future parents and other adults had to give young people role models and love. A child with low self esteem is most likely to seek a new culture, mostly from criminal gangs, he said.