Indigenous children and youth have much to contribute to the world as empowered individuals with a profound understanding of their indigenous identity, cultural heritage, sustainable living and connection to their lands and territories. At the same time, many indigenous youth face immense challenges as a result of the intergenerational effects of colonisation and assimilation policies, as well as the continued struggles to ensure their rights and identity as indigenous peoples. Often, indigenous youth are confronted with the hard choice between maintaining their roots in the indigenous community – or pursuing education and employment in cities far from home. Being far from home, further exposes them to risks of both physical and emotional violence. At the same time, indigenous youth experience much higher rates of suicide and self-harm compared to other youth. Indigenous youth and children face many further challenges, including:
• Lack of culturally appropriate education in their own languages
• Illiteracy and drop-out rates
• Forced relocation and loss of land
• Environmental pollution
• Incarceration and lack of legal protection
• Armed conflict
• Massive migration towards the cities
• Traffic and sexual exploitation
• Lack of healthcare services
• HIV/ AIDS
• Suicide and self-harm
While struggling with the above challenges, many indigenous youth are organising themselves in youth organisations to improve these conditions and ensure that their rights are respected and promoted. At a global level, the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus typically convenes during the UNPFII session to discuss and give guidance on issues related particularly to indigenous youth and children. Read more about the caucus and follow its activities throughout the year here.
The international human rights framework for indigenous children and youth
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protects the rights of indigenous children and youth. Article 21 and 22 of the Declaration call for particular attention to indigenous children and youth, when implementing the UN Declaration – and when taking measures to improve the economic and social conditions of indigenous peoples. Further, the Declaration gives the right to live in freedom, peace and security including protecting children from being removed from their group by force (Article 7.2), the right to all levels of education without discrimination (Article 14.2), the right to be protected from economic exploitation or hazardous work and the right to be protected for violence and discrimination (Article 22.2).
The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) covers indigenous children and youth and include specific references to indigenous children in ensuring their access to diverse media in their languages (Article 17.d), toe education that is non-discriminatory (Article 29.d) and the right to own culture, religion and language (Article 30).
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – and indigenous children and youth
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has always had a special focus on indigenous children and youth. In 2003, the Permanent Forum made “Indigenous Children and Youth” the main theme of its second session (E.C.19/2003/22) and has ever since been issuing recommendations on this issue during each annual session. See recent recommendations compiled here. Following its mandate to provide expert advice and make recommendations to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN system and others, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has raised awareness by highlighting the situation of indigenous children and youth and called for action by Member States, UN agencies and other stakeholders.
Permanent Forum Recommendations on Indigenous Children and Youth
Expert Group Meetings
In 2013, an expert meeting took place under the theme “International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth: Identity, Challenges and Hope: Articles 14, 17, 21 and 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, which gives an overview of the situation of indigenous youth and provides recommendations on how to progress.
In 2016, the UNPFII in its annual session report issued a new recommendation, calling on the UN system to support Member States in implementation of the recommendations from the expert group meeting in 2013.
Read more about the meeting and the outcomes here.
Getting involved at the annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ annual session takes place in April or May each year in New York. Indigenous youth from all regions are among the 1000 of participants attending the Session. In 2016 at the 15th UNPFII Session, the Permanent Forum decided to include a specific discussion about indigenous youth on their programme of work for future sessions.
The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus typically meets before the session to discuss issues related particularly to indigenous youth and children – and to coordinate interventions and statements during the session. Read more about the caucus here.
More young indigenous people are needed at the annual session of the UNPFII and in the work of the Forum to give their own views of the world in which they live. By participating, you can help to shape the advice the Permanent Forum gives to UN agencies, especially concerning indigenous youth.
At the Permanent Forum’s annual session, Member States, UN programmes, funds and agencies, National Human Rights Institutions and others report on their activities related to indigenous peoples, including children and youth. The Permanent Forum also discusses current issues related to their mandated areas of health, education, the environment, culture, human rights, and Social and economic development.
And when you return to your homes after the meeting to share your experiences, what you have learned, and what you have contributed, you help the Permanent Forum’s efforts to disseminate more information about its work.
How can I get involved?
At this web site you can find information on when each session is held, where, visa requirements, registration details, the agenda and information papers for the meeting, reports and recommendations from previous meetings.
Some funding is available specifically for indigenous participation, including youth, in the Permanent Forum meeting. If you are interested in applying for funding, click here.
You will need to get organized a long time in advance because funding for meetings must be considered in the year before the meeting is held (applications typically close October in the year before the meeting).
For further information on Indigenous children and youth see:
- UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Adolescents
- General Comment No.11(2009): Indigenous children and their rights under convention
- Declaration from the Indigenous Children and Adolescents of Latin America to the 2005 Ibero-American Summit Meeting and press release
- Committee on the Rights of the Child
- Committe on the Rights of the Child: Discussion on the Rights on Indigenous Children – Recommendations (2003)
- Youth at the United Nations
- Navigating International Meetings: A Pocketbook Guide to Effective Youth Participation (pdf document)
- Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth
- SPEAK UP (A brochure on Indigenous Children, Youth and the Permanent Forum)
Employment opportunities at the United Nations for young people:
Junior Professionals are recruited through the Young professionals programme (YPP). The YPP is a recruitment initiative that brings new talent to the United Nations through an annual entrance examination. For young, high-calibre professionals across the globe, the examination is a platform for launching a career at the United Nations. This programme builds upon the national competitive recruitment examination (NCRE). For more information on the Young Professionals Programme click here >>>
Other websites posting international jobs: UN Careers (the main portal for employment opportunities at the UN)