Arab youth, researchers and practitioners from across the Middle East and North Africa convened in Aleppo, Syria last week to share lessons learned and best practices related to vulnerable and margnalized children and youth in the region.
The conference, convened by the Arab Urban Development Institute (AUDI), brought these interested parties together to address key youth issues in the Middle East and North Africa such as youth employment, bridging the knowledge gap, and the implementation of Child Friendly Cities .
The population of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region exceeded 432 million people in 2007, half of them less than 24 years of age. Policy makers are struggling with how to capitalize on this demographic "youth bulge", with the goal of allowing youth to fully recognize their own and their communities potential.
UN HABITAT provided input into this conference through the presentation of research on the need for safe urban spaces for children and youth. The preliminary results of this research provided evidence of the benefits of local authorities establishing youth centers such as the One Stop Youth Resources Centres piloted by UN-HABITAT in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The papers presented at this conference and will be published leading up to the World Urban Forum in Rio in 2010.
"UN HABITAT believes that the meaningful engagement of youth is key to their own and their communities positive development", states Doug Ragan, co-researcher with UN HABITAT Program Officer Mutinta Munyati on the paper presented, "Research suggests that one of the ways to do this in an urban context is to establish "youth led" safe and welcoming spaces in partnership with local authorities, civil society . These Centres can provide space for youth to organize to effect positive change in their communities, and as well receive job training and access information on issues such as HIV/Aids. These spaces are especially important to young women."
The recommendation made in the research to establish One Stop centres in the MENA region was adopted by the conference as one of its key recommendations.
The Arab Urban Development Institute (AUDI) is committed to continuing research on establishing Children and Youth Friendly Cities, and will be launching a Child Friendly City training manual in the coming months.