Since the early years of ASEAN’s establishment, leaders of its member nations have placed much importance of young people in the regional association’s agenda.
There are 213 million youth (persons aged 15-34) in ASEAN countries, constituting the largest ever cohort of a new generation of young people. It is expected to peak population at over 220 million in 2038, according to the ASEAN Secretariat.
The focus for a people-oriented ASEAN Community has provided opportunities for more participation and role of the youth in promoting and deepening ASEAN integration.
Over the years, youth have become more aware and involved in the ASEAN Community, thanks to the efforts of member states in developing them through various programmes at the regional and national levels.
These include student and youth exchanges, youth leadership programmes, and youth volunteerism opportunities. These initiatives have paved the way for a more coordinated development of youth in the implementation of ASEAN programmes and projects such as those under the ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 under the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Youth (SOMY).
ASEAN established SOMY in 2002 as a sectoral body consisting of national agencies responsible for youth development.
As Cambodia takes the helm of the ASEAN chairmanship this year, ASEAN is declaring 2022 as the Year of ASEAN Youth, in line with Cambodia’s 2022 chairmanship theme, “ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together”.
Under the online campaign platform #ASEANyouth2022, ASEAN invites young people and partners across the region to amplify messages on their leadership in community development throughout the year.
At the handover ceremony of the ASEAN Chairmanship to Cambodia last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said, “Cambodia will strengthen the development of human resources to respond to the needs on the ground for community building, promote the participation of women and youth in building and maintaining peace, and develop an inclusive social protection system.”
The Year of ASEAN Youth will remain consistent with the post-2020 vision of the region’s youth development, focussing on fostering 21st Century skills and digital skills, and the institutionalisation of youth engagement mechanisms.
It will be guided by the soon-to-be-published ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2021-2025.
The work plan encompasses five priority areas, which align with the domains of ASEAN Youth Development Index: education, health and well-being, employment and opportunity for all, and promotes and protects human rights of all including the youth.
In the spirit of One ASEAN Identity, youth as the current and future leaders of the region will come together and participate in the initiative.
At least four flagship activities under the ASEAN SOMY will contribute to the Year of ASEAN Youth 2022, namely the first ASEAN Youth Dialogue funded by the Republic of Korea; the 6th ASEAN Youth Video Contest in collaboration with ASEAN Foundation and US PROSPECT; ASEAN Youth Photo Competition; and ASEAN Youth Debate 2022.
Through these events and other youth and partner-led initiatives, ASEAN seeks to provide more platforms for young people with various backgrounds and interests to unleash their potentials and play an active role in addressing current challenges.
Towards the end of the year and through a series of consultations with various stakeholders, ASEAN expects to adopt a leaders’ statement on the Year of ASEAN Youth at participation and engagement, and ASEAN awareness, values and identity.