With a lot of talk in tourism on how to protect young people within our more global world the United Nations today is celebrating International Youth Day. The theme for this year is “Safe Spaces for Youth.”
It becomes important for everyone, but specifically for the travel and tourism industry. The world hasn’t heard much this year from global tourism leaders like UNWTO on how to create such safe spaces, but organizations including ECPAT had shown leadership when it comes to awareness of sexual exploitation in tourism and human trafficking.
It’s the UN’s responsibility to not only talk about this important issue on how to protect young people but also to hold countries accountable to assure safety for our young generation. There are so many good and bad examples in the world touching literally every country and every society in the world. Children in conflict zones, child labor, child soldiers, child sex workers, child slavery, child marriage, child homelessness, child drug abuse, child violence – there is no end to the dangers children are facing.
Youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. While there are many types of spaces, safe spaces ensure the dignity and safety of youth. Safe spaces such as civic spaces enable youth to engage in governance issues; public spaces afford youth the opportunity to participate in sports and other leisure activities in the community; digital spaces help youth interact virtually across borders with everyone; and well planned physical spaces can help accommodate the needs of diverse youth especially those vulnerable to marginalization or violence.
Ensuring that safe spaces are inclusive, youth from diverse backgrounds especially those from outside the local community, need to be assured of respect and self-worth. In humanitarian or conflict prone settings for example, youth may lack the space to fully express themselves without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. Similarly, without the existence of safe space, youth from different race/ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or cultural background may feel intimidated to freely contribute to the community. When youth have safe spaces to engage, they can effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically Goal 11, emphasizes the need for the provision of space towards inclusive and sustainable urbanization. Furthermore, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) reiterates the need for public spaces for youth to enable them to interact with family and have constructive inter-generational dialogue. Additionally, the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) which is the UN framework for youth development, prioritizes the provision of “leisure activities” as essential to the psychological, cognitive and physical development of young people. As more and more youth grow in a technologically connected world, they aspire to engage deeper in political, civic and social matters, and the availability and accessibility of safe spaces become even more crucial to make this a reality.