Two decades have passed since the first edition of this book. Back in 1995 Willliam Angel made a huge effort to put together in one book data that were never collected before and to evaluate them on a global and cross-sectorial scale. The greatest contribution, which is still unchanged today, was to finally elevate the debate on Youth Rights from a theoretical and political discussion into a legal frame and, ultimately, to provide a solid basis from which to call for a binding international law instrument to better ensure that young people can access their rights.
The world in which the book was released was not the same of the one today. Few years after the cold war ended, the mid-90s was a moment in which an optimistic faith in the greater progress of International Laws was growing, alongside a series of World Conferences under the aegis of the United Nations promising advancement in the realms of many sectors that did not have global instruments beforehand. This period was symbolically marked by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995. Also, at the time, the Youth field was preparing its first World Ministerial Conference in Lisbon in 1998. Read through the lens of that historical period, the contribution of this book should have led by now to the existence of an International Convention on Youth Rights.
From today’s viewpoint we can say that after this season of international gatherings, during the 2000s the ambition of a common and strong global agenda in the social field, in general, was greatly diminished. This, however, does not mean that the previous decade has not been important to build up on the work done previously and in addition some Regional Instruments on Youth Rights have seen the light, such as the African Youth Charter and the Ibero-American Convention on Youth Rights.
The need to address the issue, however, was not diminished, and ,as outlined in this new edition in the chapter written by Professor Cardona, the situation is rather to the contrary. In the context of one of the worst global financial and economic crises ever, young people are even more marginalised and at risk than before. The crisis has also affected those areas of the world which would have been previously considered as the most advanced, both in terms of economic and social development.
For the European Youth Forum, the task to update and rethink this book should be contextualized in this historical and political frame. Even if the global scope of the book is respected it is particularly important to advocate for better instruments for the rights of young people, not only on a global scale but also at a European level. The continent, even if it does not have a formal convention on Youth Rights yet, does have a series of instruments both at the level of the European Union and the Council of Europe, which can be strengthened and can constitute the backbone for solid protection of young people in Europe.
A second, but not secondary, reason for the efforts made by the Forum in this new edition is the progressive attention that it has made in recent years to build evidence and studies on the conceptualization of Youth Rights and the overall push it has made to adopt a rights-based approach to Youth Policy.
The rights-based approach starts from the philosophical position that all people are entitled to a certain standard in terms of physical, mental and social well-being. It takes the side of people who suffer injustice by acknowledging their equal worth and dignity; it removes the charity dimension of protecting and promoting their rights by emphasising them. It recognises people not as beneficiaries, but as active rights-holders and establishes corresponding duties for states and other actors against whom claims can be made. The concept of rights-holders and duty-bearers introduces an important element of accountability into working with youth rights and moves the focus where it should be: on empowering young people to claim their own rights. As a concept, the rights-based approach ensures the meaningful and systematic inclusion and empowerment of the most vulnerable.
Currently, young people very much rely on States to promote and protect their rights. However, most States are reluctant to take a progressive stance towards youth rights and therefore the challenges that young people face accessing their rights are almost never remedied. A recognised and strong legal basis focusing on youth would ensure that the focus of youth policy would lie in empowering young people to effectively access their own rights. As is the case in other fields, such as the women’s rights movement, this would empower young people to fight for their rights, while also making them active citizens ready and able to act as full and equal members of society.
The European Youth Forum thinks that different challenges young people face in Europe should be properly reflected in a binding instrument, a code of legal norms containing a set of youth rights, responding to the huge need to improve young people’s access to their rights, especially in times of financial and political crisis.
We see these challenges in perfect harmony and continuity with the aims exposed in the first edition by William Angel 20 years ago. For this reason this new edition represents both an update and, hopefully, an upgrade for the way that this book will be used, both to spark further legal, political and sociological research in the academic field, as well as support to even stronger advocacy actions to further the rights of young people.
In memoriam of William D. Angel
The Book is available on Amazon