The African Youth Charter (Youth Charter) was adopted by African heads of states and government in Banjul, the Gambia on the 2nd of July 2006. Upon the attainment of 15 ratifications as required in article 30(2), the Youth Charter entered into force on 8 August 2009.
As the first international treaty on youth development, the Youth Charter bears a significant place in the protection of the rights of young persons. Although its jurisdictional scope is Africa, the Youth Charter sets a standard for the international community in the development of norms for the protection of young persons. In its ‘Definitions’ section, the Youth Charter sets the age for ‘youth or young people’ within the ages of 15 and 35 years. As at 2014, 36 African Union (AU) states had ratified the Youth Charter while 42 AU states had signed.
The Youth Charter contains 31 provisions and places significant emphasis on human rights. While re-emphasising some of the rights contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Youth Charter goes a step further in providing for the right to gainful employment (article 15); right to rest and leisure (article 22) and the right of youths with disabilities (article 24). Articles 10 and 14 of the Youth Charter offer expositions on the content of the right to development of youths in Africa. Importantly, the Youth Charter obligate state parties to ‘promote and ensure through teaching, education and publication’ (article 27) respect for the rights in the Youth Charter. State parties are further mandated ‘to see to it that these freedoms, rights and responsibilities as well as corresponding obligations and duties are understood’ (article 27). Although the Youth Charter obligate state parties to take ‘necessary steps’ in the realisation of the obligations contained in it (article 1(2)); the Youth Charter does not provide adequate enforcement mechanisms at the regional level.
International Youth Day: 12 August 2014
Blurred lines come to mind when defining the word “youth” in Eritrea.
There are multiple global ranges afforded to the term “youth”; the United Nations (UN) declares a range of 15 to 24 years old, and the African Youth Charter settles for 15 to 35 years of age. One common definition is to observe youth as a transitional phase from dependent childhood to independent adulthood, a time when parental guidance and experience are equipping children with the tools to construct an independent adult self.
When interviewing young people who left Eritrea, it troubles me that I cannot capture that moment, that space reserved for such transition. I asked 18 year old Hermon* when she first recalled hearing about the compulsory national service introduced in 1995, which systematically recruits people from the ages of 18 to serve their country. Her response was:
I knew what national service was when I was eight years old because there was a round-up [known as giffa] and they took my mother during the night.
By the time Hermon was 12 years old, her mother came to her at night and asked if she would be prepared to “take a long and difficult trip”. She agreed, not knowing that what lay ahead was three days and nights of travel to arrive in Khartoum, Sudan and live for four-years as a member of a nameless, faceless and poor refugee mob. Hermon did not comprehend the risk she and her mother took: the risk of being detained for desertion or the risk of becoming victims of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy at the borders. At 12 years, she could not have possibly understood but saw the fear in her mother’s eyes, who arranged this journey for her daughter so she would never have to go to Sawa or any other military training camp.